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Human by Brom
Brom Human by Brom
# Trading Expeditions

The Dune Trader supplement for Dark Sun gave us a ton of details on running trade caravans on Athas and has been embraced by trader characters in my games since it was released. My players and I have expanded on the material in there considerably – one player built a massive Excel sheet that randomizes trade goods across all the city-states (including a way to determine how many gems and jewels are on the market!), adjusting their value according to the material given in Dune Trader. We’re working on making that ready for public release.

In the meantime, however, here’s the system we use to determine cargo price and availability, and to represent the hazards faced by caravans when they head out across the wastes. Our Excel sheet automates all of this but while we get it ready, we figured we might as well share the actual system itself.

If you’re playing a trader and you send goods off to another city-state, sometimes it’s fine to play that expedition out in real time. But sometimes that doesn’t work because the campaign is dealing with other issues, or the DM and other players don’t fancy spending a couple of sessions helping you ferry your latest shipment of Nibenese nose flutes to Balic.

This set of tables allows you to abstract much of what happens, determining cargo availability, and coming up with encounters, weather hazards, customs duties, and other problems your trade caravan may face. The systems used here work alongside the caravan sizes presented in Dune Trader, the troop types given in the Dark Sun Rules Book, and the encounter calculation method used in the Journeys system which I shared back during season one of To Tame a Land (look for a repost from soon). This means that the hazards system here will interface smoothly with all existing Dark Sun rules, making it easy to customize this to your edition of choice.

To use this system, follow these steps: * Decide on the caravan’s cargo using Dune Trader or other sources of trade goods. Higher-level traders may be able to acquire more goods – see Cargo below.
* Determine how well-defended the caravan is. Is it defended primarily by irregular, militia, medium, or heavy troops? See Troops below.
* Determine the Caravan Size: small, medium, or large.
* See Table 3: Number of Events to determine how many events the caravan will face, according to how long its journey lasts. Longer journeys bring greater risk.
* Roll on Table 4: Event Types to determine each event. Note that it’s possible to roll no hazard – the elements smile on you! Adjust cargo value or troop numbers accordingly or apply any other special conditions.
* Profit!


This stage involves buying whatever cargo you wish to send on the caravan. We’re reproducing the tables from Dune Trader here, but you can use another source to set the buying price if you prefer – ideally, you’d buy something that will sell for a higher price at the destination. See Table 1: Trade Goods.

We’ve added a column to this table that lists Quantity. This allows you to randomly determine how much of a given cargo is available on the market at the start of any given expedition. The roll produces an amount of whatever unit the cargo is given in. So if you’re buying ale, it’s given in gallons and you roll 1d100 to see how many gallons of ale are available on the market. If you’re buying chalk, it’s given in pounds and you roll 1d1000 to see how many pounds of chalk are available. For amber, roll 1d10 to see how many ounces are available, and so on.


1d100 Ale 2 bits/gal. C B C C D D C
1d10 Amber 50 sp/oz. C B D B C D C
* Armor * B C C D B D B
1d100 Beer 5 bits/gal. C C D C B C C
1d10 Bronze 5 gp/lb. B B C C C D B
1d100 Candy 1 bit/lb. C C B B D D C
1d1000 Ceramics 1 sp/100 pcs. B C C B D D C
1d1000 Chalk 1 bit/lb. C B B C D D D
1d100 Chitin 4 sp/lb. C B B D C C B
1d100 Cider 8 cp/tun B C D C B C C
1d10 Cinnabar 1 sp/oz. B C D B C C D
1d1000 Cloth - Common (per 10 sq.yds.) 7 cp C C D C C B B
1d100 Cloth - Fine (per 10 sq.yds.) 50 cp B D B C C C C
1d100 Cloth - Rich (per 10 sq.yds.) 1 sp C D B B D C D
* Clothing * B D D B C C C
1d1000 Coal 3 cp/lb. C C D C B B D
1d100 Copper 2 sp/lb. B B B D C D B
1d100 Cosmetics 1 sp/oz. B C C C D D D
1d1000 Cotton 2 cp/lb. C B C C D D B
1d100 Crodlu - Riding 10 sp each C B C C C C C
1d10 Crodlu - War 20 sp each C C D C B D B
1d100 Dyes/Pigments 1 sp/oz. C B D C D C B
1d100 Erdlu 10 cp each C B B D C D C
1d10 Feathers - Rare 5 sp each B B D C D D D
1d100 Feathers - Common 3 cp/100 C B D C C D D
1d100 Figs 1 bit/lb. B C D C B B C
1d100 Fruit 2 bits/lb. C C D C B B C
1d10 Furs 3 sp each B C B C D C D
* Gems * C C C B D D D
1d100 Glass 1 sp/lb. B C B C C D C
1d10 Gold 50 gp/lb. C D C B D C C
1d100 Hardwood 1 gp/lb. C B D D C D B
1d100 Herbs 3 bits/lb. D C C C B B D
1d100 Incense 2 sp/oz. C B C B D C D
1d100 Inix 10 sp each C B B D C C C
1d100 Ink 8 cp/oz. C B B C C D D
1d10 Iron 1 gp/lb. B C B C B D B
1d10 Jade 1 sp/lb. C C B C C D C
* Jewelry * C B C C D D C
1d100 Kanks - Trained 12 sp each D B D B C C C
1d100 Kanks - Untrained 50 cp each D B B D D C D
1d100 Kank Nectar 10 cp/lb. D D B C B B C
1d1000 Leather 5 cp/sq.yd. D D C C B C B
1d1000 Marble 2 sp/lb. B D D C C B D
1d10 Medicines 5 sp/oz. C B C C B D C
1d10 Mekillots 20 sp each C B C C C D B
1d100 Mirrors 1 sp each C C B D C D D
1d100 Nuts 3 cp/lb. B C D C B B D
1d1000 Obsidian 5 cp/lb. B B C D B D B
1d100 Oil - Flammable 2 sp/gal. D B C D D C B
1d1000 Oil - Lamp 1 bit/gal. C D C B C C C
1d1000 Oil - Cooking 8 bits/gal. C C D D B B C
1d10 Paintings 10 sp each C C C B C D D
1d100 Paper 2 sp 100 ct B B C C D C C
1d100 Perfume 5 cp/oz. B C C B C D D
1d1000 Resins 8 sp/oz. C D C C C B D
1d1000 Rice 1 bit/lb. C B C D B B C
1d1000 Rope - Hemp 1 cp/50 ft. B D C C C C C
1d100 Rope - Silk 1 sp/50 ft. B D D B C D C
1d100 Rugs 1 gp each D B C B C D D
1d1000 Salt 2 bits/lb. D C D C B B D
1d100 Silk, raw 4 sp/oz. D C B C D D D
1d10 Silver 50 sp/lb. D C B C D C B
** Slaves ** C B C D B B B
1d100 Songbirds 1 cp each D C C B C D D
** Spell books ** C B C D C C B
** Spell components ** C D B D C C B
1d100 Spice - Exotic 15 cp/lb. D C D D C D B
1d100 Spice - Rare 2 cp/lb. C C D D B C B
1d100 Spice - Uncommon 1 cp/lb. C C D D B C B
1d10 Statues 1 gp each C B C B C D D
1d1000 Sugar 4 bits/lb. C C D C B B D
1d1000 Tools 1 cp each D C C D B C C
1d1000 Vegetables 2 bits/lb. C C C D B B C
1d1000 Water 10 cp/tun B C C D B B C
1d1000 Wax 7 bits/lb. C C B C D C C
* Weapons * C D B D B C B
1d100 Wine 2 sp/tun B C D C B B D
1d1000 Wheat 1 cp/lb. C D C C B B C
  • Cost varies - See PHB
    ** Cost varies greatly - DM sets price.

Roll for random market fluctuation using the table from Dune Trader, which may change the letter code given on Table 1. Here’s the table, for reference:


D100 Roll Result  
01-75 No change
76-90 Adjust price code by one letter (50% chance of either up or down)
91 -98 Adjust price code by two letters (50% chance of either up or down)
99-00 Adjust price code by three letters (50% chance of either up or down)

Modify the amount and cost of cargo according to the letter code – as Dune Trader explains, the letter code affects price and availability:
A: Supply is very low. None of the cargo type is available for purchase.
B: Supply is low. Half of the rolled amount is available for purchase. Price is twice the listed cost.
C: Supply is normal. The rolled amount is available for purchase. Price is the listed cost.
D: Supply is high. Twice the rolled amount is available for purchase. Price is half the listed cost.

In our games, we also use a rule that higher-level traders can acquire more cargo than lower-level traders. They have the connections and reputations to source more goods. Multiply the available cargo by one third of the trader’s level to determine how much a higher-level trader can acquire.

This allows there to be up to 10,000 pounds of each heavy cargo for the highest-level traders, which matches the maximum capacity of an argosy (15,000 lbs., when fully crewed). So at levels 1-3, there’s no multiplier. At levels 4-6, it’s double, at levels 7-9, it’s triple etc., capping out at 10 times the base amount for a 30th level trader. Non-traders never receive a multiplier.

If you’re renting space aboard a caravan owned by someone else (such as another trading house), you may have to pay a fee for this – 5% to 10% of your total cargo value is a normal fee.


Caravans need defenders. The more well-defended your caravan is, the better it can deal with any hazards it may encounter. Troops are divided into three categories for the purpose of this system: irregular or militia troops, medium troops, and heavy troops.

These categories match the troop types given on page 50 of the Dark Sun Rules Book and on page 108 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for AD&D 2nd Edition. If you’re using another edition, determine which types of troops are being used to defend the caravan. When you hire troops to guard your caravan or act as scouts (or assign them from your followers), use this method to determine what category they fall under.

With mixed troop types, the largest number determines the overall category. So if you have 100 irregulars and only 30 medium troops, the overall defenders are categorized as irregular.

This, in turn, helps determine the overall caravan size.

Caravan Sizes

The size of a caravan affects how vulnerable it is to hazards that may occur during the expedition. Larger caravans present more formidable targets and raiders fare more poorly against them. Use the following categories to determine the size of your caravan:

Small Caravan
1-6 cargo mounts
1-20 guards
1-12 scouts

Medium Caravan
1-6 wagons
21-40 guards
13-24 scouts

Large Caravan
1 or more argosies
41 or more guards
25 or more scouts
(Large caravans also often carry additional troops)

A caravan must meet all of these criteria to be considered a certain size. So a caravan that has 80 guards but no argosies is still considered medium, for example.

These categories match the sample caravans given in Dune Trader, ensuring that this system supports existing Dark Sun material.

Do not forget to buy enough food and water for all caravan staff and mounts!

Expedition Events

This is the heart of this system – a method to determine what actually happens to your caravan once it’s out on the road. Determine how long the caravan’s journey is by measuring it in miles or hexes on the 2e map of the Tablelands. Miles are given for the 2e and 4e versions of the map – distances have been rounded off slightly for convenience.


Journey Length (2e) Journey Length (4e) Journey Length (2e Hexes) Number of Events
1 to 75 miles 1 to 170 miles 1 to 15 hexes 1d2 events
76 to 200 miles 171 to 450 miles 16 to 40 hexes 1d2+1 events
201+ miles 451+ miles 41+ hexes 1d3+2 events

Once you have determined how many events can occur on the journey, roll on Table 4: Event Types to see what they are. You can use these events to spark narrative content for your game – see Examples at the end of this blog for ways to accomplish this.

Losses are given for Medium caravans. Small caravans double these amounts. Large caravans halve these amounts.

Irregular and militia defenders add 10% to losses. Medium troops decrease losses by 5%. Heavy troops decrease losses by 10%.


Roll Category Specific Hazard Result
01-30 NO HAZARD None None
31-45 RAIDERS    
  01-05 Dwarves Lose 10% of troops and mounts, round down, or pay the raiders 10% of the cargo value
  06-25 Elves Lose 15% of troops and mounts, round down
  26-30 Giants Lose 30% of troops and mounts, round down
  31-45 Gith Lose 10% of troops and mounts, round down, or lose 5% of cargo by amount, determined randomly
  46-50 Half-elves Lose 10% of troops and mounts, round down, or lose 5% of cargo value
  51-55 Half-giants Lose 20% of troops and mounts, round down
  56-60 Halflings Lose 10% of troops and mounts, round down, or lose 10% of cargo by amount, determined randomly
  61-75 Humans Lose 15% of troops and mounts, round down, or lose 10% of cargo value
  76-90 Thri-Kreen Lose 25% of troops and mounts, round down (four balls of ranike sap reduces this by 10%)
  91-00 Mixed Group Lose 20% of troops and mounts, round down, or lose 20% of cargo value
  01-35 High Temperatures Caravan forced to buy additional 20% of water rations
  36-70 High Winds Caravan slowed by 1d4+4 days, forced to buy additional 10% of food and water rations
  71-00 Sandstorms Caravan slowed by 2d4+4 days, forced to buy additional 20% of food and water rations
  01-20 Agreements A trade agreement costs the caravan 2% of its cargo value
  21-40 Threats Threats from rivals cost the caravan 5% of its cargo value
  41-55 Extortion Blackmail costs the caravan 10% of its cargo value
  56-70 Infiltration Sabotage costs the caravan 10% of its cargo value and delays departure by 1d4+2 days
  71-80 Kidnapping Kidnap costs the caravan 20% of its cargo value
  81-90 Murder A high-ranking member of the caravan is assassinated
  91-00 All-Out Assault The entire caravan is lost due to a sustained attack by a rival house - begun the trade war has
  01-35 Bribery Pay 5% of the caravan’s cargo value or be delayed by 3d4 days
  36-65 Taxes Pay 10% of the caravan’s cargo or be delayed by 3d6 days
  66-80 Smuggling Lose 10% of the cargo by amount, determined randomly
  80-00 Intent to Sell Lose 20% of the cargo by amount, determined randomly


Once your caravan reaches its destination, you are ready to sell your goods. Roll again on Table 2: Random Market Fluctuation to see the state of the market in your destination. Apply the following modifiers:

A: Demand is very high. Increase your sale price by 5 to 10x (1d6+4).
B: Demand is high. Double your sale price.
C: Demand is normal. Sale price is the listed value.
D: Demand is low. Halve your sale price.

If you rented space aboard the caravan of another trader or trade house, they may require you to pay them a cut of your profits. Again, 5% to 10% would be a normal amount, as determined by your DM or through roleplaying.


Here are some actual examples of this system being used from season 1 of To Tame a Land:

Portek’s First Caravan

Portek hires space on a fast House Wavir caravan from Tyr to Balic. He pays 10% of his cargo value to cover shipping costs. It’s a long journey so there are 1d3+2 event rolls, resulting in 4 possible events.

The event rolls are 10%, 14%, 45%, and 97% - which is two “no hazards”, one attack by raiders, and one encounter with the forces of the king.

The “raiders” roll produces an attack by thri-kreen and the “sorcerer-monarch” roll results in taxes, which means increased levies encountered on arrival in Balic.


The caravan is attacked by a large kreen raiding party and 25% of all mounts and personnel are slain and eaten. No cargo is lost. Portek incurs no loss from the attack, however, because they weren’t his troops – this is why he pays shipping charges.

On arrival in Balic, the templars of Andropinis levy extra charges on the caravan for all manner of spurious reasons. Bribes are paid alongside taxes and the losses shared – this is not covered under the shipping charges. Portek loses 10% of the value of his cargo from this, but his items can now be sold in Balic. If Portek was in control of the caravan, as opposed to renting space on it, he could refuse to pay the taxes and instead suffer a 3d6 day delay while the templars sit on his shipment.

Kyrodias and Matthias’ Caravan

Kyrodias and Matthias invest in a joint caravan to Nibenay. It’s a long journey, with 1d3+2 events. The dice declare 3 events: 86% (infiltration), 57% (high temperatures), and 80% (trade agreement).


While preparing the caravan for departure, Kyrodias and Matthias discover that its staff has been infiltrated by criminals from the Toothcutter Gang, apparently acting on the orders of Shivrin. The criminals attempt to sabotage the caravan, spoiling and stealing goods, costing 10% of the total cargo value. It takes five days to clean up the mess and sort things out, meaning that the caravan departs Tyr on 25th Fifthover. Kyrodias is able to settle the problem by making a trade agreement with Shivrin, but this costs an additional 2% of the overall cargo value.

The journey is uneventful, mainly because of the brutally high temperatures that beset the entire Tablelands. The caravan is forced to take on extra water supplies at Silver Spring, increasing expenditures on water by 20%. Nevertheless, the caravan makes it to Nibenay without any further problems, arriving on 25th Hexameron.

The return journey has 5 hazards, but three of the rolls are low (two rolls of 29% and one of 11%), meaning no events. The other two are 98% (taxes) and 89% (bribery).


Turnaround in Nibenay is quick and the caravan is ready to depart on 2nd Morrow. However, the templars of the Shadow King impose hefty taxes (10% of the total cargo value for the return). Knowing that these are somewhat spurious, Kyrodias refuses to pay the taxes and the caravan sits and waits for 3d6 days before being cleared for departure.

The return journey to Tyr is completely without event. Arriving back in Tyr, however, sees the caravan hit with more taxes (5% of total cargo value) or be subject to another delay while Kyrodias deals with paperwork and whatnot. Kyrodias accepts the delay of 3d4 days and the caravan clears customs in Tyr on 16th Octavus.

Try this system out for your own Dark Sun games and let us know how it goes! And keep an eye out for our fully automated version soon!