The king’s cut

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Lemnoc
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The king’s cut

Postby Lemnoc » Sat Oct 29, 2011 1:25 am

I’m developing a merchant scenario, and it strikes me the Powers That Be will want some tariff / toll / tax creamed off any caravan haul. I’m wondering if anyone has a method to adjudicate that? I’ve searched the sourcebooks and couldn’t find anything (I was a little surprised there was so little information on the daily “Care and Feeding” of Empires in the Empires sourcebook...).

I’m thinking of something non-arbitrary and non-invasive, like x pieces of silver for each beast seeking to use the king’s highways, and that buys a writ that can be shown at every checkpoint and waystop along the route. No writ? Hell to pay. And the number pieces of silver are based on the sourcebook cost of the beast.

This doesn’t attempt to assay anything about the contents being transported by said beasts. I imagine that all gets tithed at the end of the journey, so the king gets 10% of the haul plus something regardless of whether the goods meet their market.

I’m not sure what the taxes / tolls / tariffs were in the ancient world, but something tells me they were steep indeed. Pliny said the travel cost imposed on the road from Coptos to Berenice in the early empire was 688 denarii per camel:

“In short, the overland route would seem to have owed its survival to the interests of kings than those of merchants,” writes one commentator. “And Hadrami rulers enforced the use of the overland route...”

Don’t want to take all the fun out of the caravan, but it does seem to be something players need to factor into their business and travel plans.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby alex_greene » Sat Oct 29, 2011 9:17 am

It sounds as if you're already working things out for yourself. Carry on. Though perhaps you could consider, for instance, treating a single trader in a wagon as being one unit, the same as for a single trader with one beast of burden.

Caravanserai would tend to be convoys of individual wagons pulled by beasts of burden, loaded with more goods than one mule or camel could carry. The more they load on, the more they can sell. They might be trading blocks of salt bought at one end of the road for bolts of silk at the other end, or objets d'art for rare gemstones, and each wagon would be like a small, mobile workshop, store and living quarters. The caravanserai itself would be like a nomadic community, everyone pulling together to help each other out, and it would have enough money as a whole to hire mercenaries to provide for defence should the convoy encounter trouble along the road, and give them a barracks wagon or two to store and maintain their gear.

Hint. For "mercenaries," read "player characters."
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby Lemnoc » Sat Oct 29, 2011 5:37 pm

alex_greene wrote:The caravanserai itself would be like a nomadic community, everyone pulling together to help each other out, and it would have enough money as a whole to hire mercenaries to provide for defence should the convoy encounter trouble along the road, and give them a barracks wagon or two to store and maintain their gear.

Hint. For "mercenaries," read "player characters."
Exactly.

But beyond mercenaries, every wayfarer is going to want to attach him/herself to one of these convoys (sometimes they will be pilgrimages) for security reasons. Anyone who does not likely has nefarious reasons for wanting to avoid them.* And all are going to want to have security assurances from the Organized State, even if that just means fresh water at watering holes, and the Organized State is going to want some security for its mercantile operations in the form of garrisons and patrols. Hence the toll.

*And these types will be discouraged in the Organized State.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby PhilHibbs » Sun Oct 30, 2011 12:31 pm

Lemnoc wrote:Don’t want to take all the fun out of the caravan, but it does seem to be something players need to factor into their business and travel plans.
They could always bribe the officials, which is usually lower than the tolls.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby alex_greene » Sun Oct 30, 2011 12:41 pm

This is, incidentally, why merchants preferred ships plying sea routes. A newly - opened sea route was, to a mercantile concern, an open door to riches. Explorers were paid handsomely not to find new routes overland, but to locate new lands one could reach by sea, where nobody could charge a tariff.

Heavy tolls on the Silk Roads and Salt Roads give birth to Ages of Exploration.

I hope these words have sent a shiver down your spine, too.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby Lemnoc » Sun Oct 30, 2011 4:40 pm

alex_greene wrote:This is, incidentally, why merchants preferred ships plying sea routes.
My read of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and its discussion of "designated ports" suggests major seaports had their own tolls and tariffs in ancient times, as well. The alternative, perhaps, was to offload among thieves and pirates. My guess is the decision was one of a state-protected and predictable 80-90% versus some gamble of 0% against 100% in the alternative.

I'm not trying to create a police state. Just some realistic choices and consequences for adventure seeds.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby PhilHibbs » Sun Oct 30, 2011 6:57 pm

Lemnoc wrote:I'm not trying to create a police state. Just some realistic choices and consequences for adventure seeds.
How about, if the adventurers and their trading partners are paying their tolls and taxes, but they have a competitor who is smuggling and undercutting them? They could inform the authorities, or take direct action if the competitor is bribing officials with the savings.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby duncan_disorderly » Mon Oct 31, 2011 10:07 am

PhilHibbs wrote:
Lemnoc wrote:I'm not trying to create a police state. Just some realistic choices and consequences for adventure seeds.
How about, if the adventurers and their trading partners are paying their tolls and taxes, but they have a competitor who is smuggling and undercutting them?
Or they are working for a merchant who has paid his tolls and taxes and has the necessary writs and tokens - at the start of the journey. En route they get stolen - either by an obvious bandit raid (The majority of the caravan is saved, but unfortunately the one beast/wagon/person they do capture has the paperwork...) - or by thieves in the night (sneaking in from outside, or an inside job? Maybe the caravan included slaves, and one of those has escaped with the documents, or maybe one of the employees was a double agent for a rival trader and he has taken them). PC's need to track down the thieves and recover the items before the next checkpoint - or come up with an alternative solution.

Of course depending on the trustworthiness of the merchant, they may only have his word for the existence of the permits at the start of the journey...
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby RangerDan » Mon Oct 31, 2011 11:33 am

alex_greene wrote:This is, incidentally, why merchants preferred ships plying sea routes.
Yes, but also significant is that even in ancient times cost of transport per kg. of goods was significantly lower by sea than by land, especially over longer distances.

This is why, as Lemnoc says, ports could charge sharp tariffs.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby alex_greene » Mon Oct 31, 2011 11:38 am

RangerDan wrote:
alex_greene wrote:This is, incidentally, why merchants preferred ships plying sea routes.
Yes, but also significant is that even in ancient times cost of transport per kg. of goods was significantly lower by sea than by land, especially over longer distances.

This is why, as Lemnoc says, ports could charge sharp tariffs.
Because even the sharpest tariffs were often far outweighed by the profits made from a successful trading voyage. Even the invisible treasures - knowledge, languages, accurate maps, exposure to other cultures (fantasy hint: foreign passengers, bringing with them strange new knowledge and magics unheard-of in local circles ...) - could fetch incredibly high prices if the right people knew that such treasures were available on the market ...
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby soltakss » Tue Nov 01, 2011 1:56 am

Caravanserai have to be paid for and maintained - they are important stopping points for caravans and also provide bases for the local troops to control local bandits. The roads and trade routes have to be kept relatively safe and this has to be done by local authorities. No sane ruler would want heavily armed caravans passing through his territory as they might turn into armies with baggage trains.

Charging per beast sounds fair, perhaps with a different charge for camels, horses, donkeys and so on. Wagons and carts would count as beasts, of course.

Merchants know about these charges and they are built in to the calculation of the amount needed to finance the journey. Don't forget that these were commercial enterprises and often had to raise an awful amount of money beforehand just to be able to set off. It isn't a case of getting a few camels and a couple of guards and setting off.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby Simulacrum » Sun Dec 18, 2011 4:03 pm

There is some good original source material out there to work out some basic costs for transportation of goods by land, river or sea in both ancient and medieval periods. As stated above by RangerDan, sea transport was significantly cheaper for bulk cargoes (by a factor of 20-40 times for the same distance). The forthcoming Age of Treason companion book has a price list that covers off this sort of thing, so I have spent quite a lot of time digging through the available research.

In addition to those costs a merchant in the ancient world would expect to pay duties at a port whether landing or exporting goods. But the percentages applied were pretty low - sub 5%. To make a smuggling racket work in a game scenario, you probably have to assume much higher taxes than that to be worth taking the chance of bypassing them, applied across the board or maybe to a specific commodity as a protectionist measure; alternatively have it involve a product that is actually prohibited, or restricted (like purple dyes and silk).
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby soltakss » Sun Dec 18, 2011 7:05 pm

Taxes were low at ports because merchants often stopped at several ports in a single journey. If you were charged a high percentage of your cargo each time you stopped then you would go out of business very quickly.

Don't forget that until relatively recently, most ships hopped along the coast until they had a good crossing place, then would cross a sea and hop along the coast until they reached their destination. If there were ports along the way, it would make sense to stop at them to restock supplies and do a little bit of trading.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby Simulacrum » Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:30 am

soltakss wrote:Taxes were low at ports because merchants often stopped at several ports in a single journey. If you were charged a high percentage of your cargo each time you stopped then you would go out of business very quickly.
Under Roman Portoria for example taxes were usually levied on goods landed for sale, I have not come across explicit import taxes on goods 'passing through' - ie remaining on a ship in transit that is stopping to take on supplies etc. However there must have been some sort of harbour fee or levy for doing so.
soltakss wrote:Don't forget that until relatively recently, most ships hopped along the coast until they had a good crossing place, then would cross a sea and hop along the coast until they reached their destination. If there were ports along the way, it would make sense to stop at them to restock supplies and do a little bit of trading.
For a small-scale trading vessels this is true enough, and of course for galleys that needed regular opportunities for the crew to get off the ship. One of the big merchant or transport ships plying the route between Rome and Alexandria, for example, would usually sail direct to Italy, transferring their cargo to smaller vessels at Puteoli (and later at Ostia) which were capable of navigating the Tiber.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby Lemnoc » Mon Dec 19, 2011 1:52 am

Simulacrum wrote:Under Roman Portoria for example taxes were usually levied on goods landed for sale, I have not come across explicit import taxes on goods 'passing through' - ie remaining on a ship in transit that is stopping to take on supplies etc. However there must have been some sort of harbour fee or levy for doing so.
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea makes frequent reference to "designated ports" as distinguished from a multitude of rough anchorages. One would imagine these designated ports were safe harbors and garrisoned against pirates and thieves. That in turn suggests a fee or levy or tariff to pay for the protection.

I think I would play this pretty straight—if you pay the tariff, your vessel or caravan is under protection and will not be attacked. If attacked, the king's resources will be applied to recover your loss. Boring. Expensive. Cheapskates and Adventurers, YOYO, bra.
Simulacrum wrote:For a small-scale trading vessels this is true enough, and of course for galleys that needed regular opportunities for the crew to get off the ship. One of the big merchant or transport ships plying the route between Rome and Alexandria, for example, would usually sail direct to Italy, transferring their cargo to smaller vessels at Puteoli (and later at Ostia) which were capable of navigating the Tiber.
What's especially cool is how much detail is available from the Classical writers about speeds and travel times, cargos and fees. Lots of real information to give grit to a campaign.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby Mixster » Mon Dec 19, 2011 6:12 am

By the way, you should perhaps think of the amount of "high fantasy" you want in your game and how that can fiddle with prices.

If for example a wizard riding his str/siz/hasted Manticore can underbid everyone and still make oodles of gold transporting goods. Or somebody with teleport. Who could tranport a lot of goods fastly.
Or even just a regular guy who knows of an old portal linking two otherwise seemingly distant places.

If you think about it, magic does a lot to this equation, mountains seize to be the obstacle they were in ancient times if the wizard can just teleport over them. And defenses might seem redundant if the travel can be done in 3 hours.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby Cain - Rpg.Org » Mon Dec 19, 2011 8:33 am

Hi,

I think if you calculate 5-15% for a whole voyage you should be pretty close. Comparison : in medieval Hungary for "normal" income (agriculture etc) you paid 1/10 to the king/local noble and another 1/10 to the church.

Also, in medieval times there was another thing above taxes for many nobles and kings : merchant stopping rights. They could force the traders to try to sell their goods on the local market. They used this, if they were short on said supplies (food for example) or the local leaders wanted to buy the transported goods. On some cases merchants may be pass along without being stopped, by leaving some of the transported goods behind but it's always expensive (10% or more !)
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby PhilHibbs » Mon Dec 19, 2011 12:09 pm

Simulacrum wrote:I have not come across explicit import taxes on goods 'passing through' - ie remaining on a ship in transit that is stopping to take on supplies etc. However there must have been some sort of harbour fee or levy for doing so.
Such a fee may unofficially be proportional to the trader's ability to pay, though.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby Lemnoc » Mon Dec 19, 2011 7:08 pm

PhilHibbs wrote:Such a fee may unofficially be proportional to the trader's ability to pay, though.
Again, the Periplus yields clues. Mention is made of trinkets and cheap articles of clothing one could trade with the poorer harbors. So cash is not necessarily a requirement. I imagine every distant harbor required a money changer for cash transactions, so that's another 5-6% skimmed, according to Classical sources.

I think the general, overall idea is: 1. People in the ancient world made livings, not killings. 2. Players should have their money taken from them by every means and opportunity available.
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Re: The king’s cut

Postby DamonJynx » Mon Dec 19, 2011 8:53 pm

Lemnoc wrote:2. Players should have their money taken from them by every means and opportunity available.
+1
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