Caravans and Trading Companies in Sembia
By Rand Sharpsword
Most overland trade in Faerûn is organized into caravans. A few of the larger nations, notably Amn and the Zhents, run their own caravans, marked with national colors and guarded by professional soldiers. Many other caravans are private outfits or ad-hoc consortiums of temporarily associated merchants. Overland travel companies seeking to make a name for themselves as reliable movers of goods run still other caravans.
Sembia does not maintain national caravan outfits, though certain Sembian cities have been known to sponsor their own caravans. Around half of the caravans moving between Sembia's ports, Ordulin, and the roads into Cormyr are organized by the aforementioned overland travel companies. A list of a few of the major companies with interests in moving Sembian goods follows. There are many other trading companies elsewhere in Faerûn, most notably along the routes between Waterdeep and the Moonsea, but only Sembians follow caravan movements, caravan schedules, and individual caravan masters with a passion and intensity that other peoples reserve for gladiatorial combats or chariot racing.
Firehands Group: The Firehands Group is a medium-sized company based in Daerlun. It has been in business for twelve years and concentrates exclusively on routes to Waterdeep from Sembia. They are an above-board group, with competitive rates, but frequently fall victim of the machinations of the Iron Throne.
Iron Throne: The Iron Throne is a mysterious organization that has rapidly taken over much of the arms traffic between Sembia, Thay, and other nations of the East. The Iron Throne merchants claim to be interested in the cause of free trade, speaking for smaller merchants who lack a voice. In truth, the master of the Iron Throne is a half-fiend, "fallen" from the inferno, who seeks to carve a place of power for herself by economic domination of Faerûn through weapons that wreak havoc upon the guilty and innocent alike. No one knows the truth, thanks to the efficient operations of the Iron Throne's three wings: The Arms, who handle high level negotiations and business deals; the Feet, who see to caravan security and the destruction or sabotage of rival merchants; and the Eye, wizards and sorcerers devoted to maintaining communications between the organization's far-flung agents.
The Iron Throne's initial period of expansion has slowed, largely due to a mounting conflict with newly established franchises of the Red Wizards of Thay.
Six Coffers Market Priakos: Originally formed by six prosperous merchants in widespread cities as a means of ensuring the proper flow of their goods, Six Coffers Market still controls a sizeable percentage of trade throughout Faerûn. The headquarters is in Berdusk. Regional centers of operation are Selgaunt, Iriaebor, Waterdeep, Marsember, Priapurl, and Silverymoon. Mirabeta Selkirk has acquired a sizeable interest in the Six Coffers Market Priakos. Mirabeta is evil-smart rather than evil-stupid, and she has directed her part of the operation efficiently.
Seven Suns Trading Coster: The poor merchants' alternative to the Six Coffers outfit, Seven Suns offers slow wagons, barely competent guards, and extremely low rates. How low are their rates? Low enough that people who should know better still hire them to transport their cargo.
You can integrate the trading companies in your campaign in many ways, but here are a few adventure seeds to get you started!
- Watchful One: The heroes hire onto a Six Coffers Market Priakos caravan as guards only to discover that a couple of the guards are acting strangely. Why does one of the guards constantly watch another guard? Is the other guard who she says she is? Dungeon Masters can set up the watched one as a debtor in hiding or as a former kidnap victim who worked her way free. The watcher can be someone who suspects the woman of some crime or an agent of the kidnappers seeking to find a way to recapture his victim.
- Smelly Cargo: As the heroes travel, they come across a caravan that has stopped and is in disarray. If the heroes investigate, they discover that half of the caravan's guards walked off the job. The caravan leader is reluctant to discuss why. Heroes can also discover quite easily that the cargo in the wagons is trash! The smell is really hard to miss. What is going on here? Is the cargo really trash, or is it disguised? And why did the guards leave?
- The Rumors Thicken: News comes to light that implicates one of the Firehands Group's senior caravan leaders in a scandal: He is in cahoots with the Iron Throne and has been for years, according to the news. However, the leader insists that he is innocent of such a scandal. The next day, he is found dead. Was he innocent, or did his guilt bring about his death? What other people will be drawn into this scandal by the time the heroes finish investigating?