I need to know what kind of crew members I would need to crew a trade caravan. Like, how many gaurds would make sense, or would I need any important crew members? How many people do I need?

I am a GM in a high fantasy setting, and I am using a land route, roughly analogous to the Silk Road. My PCs are acting as caravan guards and the caravan will be going from the vaguely European nation of Arvale (Sort of Britishy/Frenchy) to the vaguely Middle Eastern-ish Solor transporting very important cargo of assorted spices, gold, and other goods in return for rare Soloran magical goods (Solor is the most magical nation in the world, and the number one supplier for magical goods). Teleporting the cargo would be a very bad idea due to the way Teleportation magic works in my setting, and their destination is landlocked. They are trying to reduce notice by traveling in small groups traveling by land, with the PC's group consisting of five covered wagons, filled with supplies for the journey and a load of gold, spices, and assorted goods. Not many people are aware of the caravan, but the road has been plagued by bandits recently, which is why they hired a group like my PCs as guards.

This caravan is going to be a large plot point in the campaign and I want to crew it appropriately with guards other than my PCs and coachmen, but I don't know who else would be needed for the upkeep of the caravan. This is not meant to be a historically-accurate simulation, but to basically pass the smell test of what staffing makes sense for this in a fantasy setting.


3 Answers 3


Caravans only exist because going alone is dangerous. Due to the pressures of economics and danger, every person in a caravan is a liability, because they require carrying food, water, and personal effects that take up valuable room that could otherwise be filled with trade goods. Anyone who is an unnecessary liability is a threat to the success (i.e., survival) of the caravan. This means that nobody in a caravan is going to be there without having a very good reason.

There are two good reasons for someone to be in a caravan:

  1. They are an employee whose cost (in terms of space and/or pay) is justified by improving the chance of the caravan's survival and profitability
  2. They're paying to tag along with the caravan, for safety in numbers, and paying well enough to offset the fact/risk that they're an "unknown quantity"

This means that, in terms of NPC types, you have a few well-defined caravan employee types, but also room for every other character type you can think of (so long as they have a reason to travel).

Legit caravan jobs

There are very few jobs that need doing in a caravan.

  • You need drovers: the people who know how to control the creatures, keep them moving at a pace both sustainable for beast-survival reasons and fast enough for economic reasons.
  • You need people who can tend the animals: grooming, feeding, watering, bedding them down, and perhaps doctoring them. These may be the same as the drivers, but because this is an end-of-day job and the drivers will be tired, they may be separate jobs or jobs with overlap (say, done by the apprentice or backup drivers).
  • You have the trader/merchant/owner/trader. A small caravan may have one master, while larger caravans may be multiple joined together for protection, or if one large caravan owned by the same people/person, there may be multiple merchants simply because they need that many negotiators at the destination. These may also be drivers, but if they're wealthy enough, they may also choose to not dirty their hands with that work. Traders may be owners, or they may be employees of an owner back home.
  • Guards. Caravans primarily exist to make it easier for more stuff to be guarded by fewer people. These may also overlap with drivers, if drivers rotate through shifts between droving and guarding.

There you have it: four character types that are integral to a caravan, all but one which are optional if people's jobs overlap. Jobs other than these are dead weight, and simply won't be part of the official caravan.

Paying travellers

Among paying travellers, there are no generalisations, so you can meet any sort of person. All you need is for someone to have a motive to go from point A to distance point B, and they'll have a reason to join up with a caravan.

All of these travellers, to benefit from the protection offered by the caravan, will have to carry their weight. They'll either pay for the privilege in hard coin or other economic trade, or they'll work for their passage. If the latter, that means that they will actually be one of the NPC types above (just like your PCs will be guards), except that they might have an extra background layer beyond simply being an employee of the caravan.

This category lets you add a few interesting NPCs for variety, but due to the nature of travellers covering the whole spectrum of people, there's no way to give guidance to narrow down your options.

Raw numbers

Are not possible to generalise about.

Caravans are economic enterprises. Think of them as one-time, one-purpose temporary companies formed for a specific job. Now think about how much variety there is in how modern companies are crewed, in terms of numbers, job separation or overlap, and specific mixes of skills. Caravans are the same: they will have exactly the jobs and numbers that the caravan master believes will give them the best chance of success, and that means that a caravan could be anywhere from tiny and overstaffed, to huge and understaffed, to huge and overstaffed and tiny and understaffed.

How rich is the owner? How much risk are they comfortable with? Are they risking their lives as part of the caravan, or just risking some pocket money and staying home? You can literally have any numbers you like; and on top of that, caravan masters can make poor choices in caravan composition, just like people can make poor choices in building modern companies — so there is no limit to how overspent or understaffed a caravan can be. Lots of skilled drovers, and tenders, but skimping on the guards and buying unhealthy beasts? Sure, that could happen. Overworking the drivers by having them drive all day and be tenders at night? Sure, could happen.

The numbers are ultimately up to you. This is a game too, and you don't have to be super-correct in these details. The take-home message you should get from all these unknowable variables is that you shouldn't be picking numbers and NPCs based on what's "right", you should be picking them based on what will seem plausible to your players, and be making choices that give you the NPCs you want to play with during the trip.


Steal the Pathfinder caravan rules

Rather than derive this from first principles, use these Pathfinder caravan rules that include roles from the different kinds of staff you can have. 4e loves minigames, so plug it on in.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. I wish I had know about this earlier. If I had known that this existed I probably wouldn't have even asked this question. Oh well. :D \$\endgroup\$
    – Jonathan
    Mar 24, 2015 at 1:13

From a purely mechanical perspective, a couple of ritual casters:

The ritual primal grove (level 19) allows for effectively arbitrary transportation of large groups of people (and therefore supplies) for a nominal base cost. At the cost of 16,000 gp, 2 entrances and the grove can be created, and there is no distance limit on the entrances. Using Bags of Holding , an effectively infinite amount of goods can be transported, even hiring level appropriate guards for "teleportation encounters."

Barring teleportation rituals, there are also rituals like "Eagle's Flight" which, at level 10, provide overland flight 10-30. While still requiring the PCs as guards, this is much cheaper and more efficient for magical caravans than land routes, especially with magical storage spaces. Much of the caravan's haul-mass (especially on non-established routes with caravan inns every day's travel) will be hauling fuel (food) for its animals and humans.

There is no need for risky, expensive, caravans in 4e, from a mechanical perspective.

From a player perspective, they should be the only guards of the caravan. This fits the conceit of the game, and allows for fun set-piece battles with interesting terrain to guard. Be prepared to answer why they can't just teleport to the destination with the expensive products.

A magical trading retinue has exactly as many jobs as you want. All "boring" aspects can be automated by magic for less money and greater reliability. The way to derive the jobs is to start with the objective: Getting carts from here to there. Therefore, you'll need drivers for the carts, wainwrights, blacksmiths, people to feed and care for the people in the caravan. People to trade the stuff on the caravan. People to care for the animals in the caravan. Outriders (to figure out who may be in a position to attack the caravan) and guards (the PCs).

The tradeoff here is that "people cost money, not make money". Therefore the fewest people needed to get the money-making stuff from here to there will be employed, and the jobs are a function of "who is needed to get there, and what do they need?" Which is a function of the technologies involved in the transit. Assuming we're using the pricing rules for labour in 4e, a set of level appropriate (we'll assume level 1) hirelings run 15gp per day, and mercenaries run 45gp per day. Assuming 2 drivers per wagon (10), ignoring the need for bringing a blacksmith and wainright, 2 cooks, 6 drovers, 1 healer, 1 hired trader (not counting the caravan master), 1 ritual caster (make whole resolves an absurd number of problems) (at this point, I'll note that most wagon trains ran 20-40 wagons, because of economies of scale), we have 20 generic hirelings, 1 caster (call it *2 the cost), and 10 scouts (again, this number is highly variable, as a function of dangers of not knowing what the terrain holds versus the risk of losing the caravan. Given that this is a "dangerous route", having 3 shifts of scouts out, with 1 backup, leaves 3 people per shift. For 20*15+1*30+10*45 = 780 gp per day, not counting food costs or animal costs. If this caravan lasts for more than 20 days, it's cheaper to just teleport.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer. This is a good answer, and makes a lot of sense. Also, on the subject of magical teleportation, I forgot to mention that, no, teleportation is not a viable option. Teleportation magic in my setting involves moving through the space between dimensions to get from point A to point B, and can attract the attention of dangerous creatures like beholders or mindflayers, or worse. The danger of being noticed spikes significantly as the size of the objects being teleported increases, with it going to a near 100% chance with magical cargo. So teleportation would be very bad. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jonathan
    Mar 24, 2015 at 1:04

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