War of the Burning Sands
The Merchant Code
- Recognition that by joining a merchant house, an agent forsakes citizenship in any city or membership in any tribe.
- An oath of allegiance to the merchant house.
- A promise to perform in the best interests of the merchant house in return for a salary.
- A promise to deal honestly with stranger, friend, and foe alike.
- A promise not to flaunt any wealth gained through employment with the house.
- A promise to uphold the laws of the city in which the agent is stationed, and to do nothing to bring down the wrath of the sorcerer-king or his agents upon the house.
- A promise to cooperate with other merchants to make life very expensive for any person who unjustly imprisons, blackmails, or otherwise harasses any merchant.
Inika operates out of its headquarters in the city of Gulg. It is small compared to some of the other major houses, but this is by choice. Dealing in small, valuable cargoes, such as kola nuts, exotic feathers, spices, and gemstones, Inika sees the benefit in remaining small and efficient. As a result, the house rakes in profits far out of proportion to its size, gaining a reputation for being one of the shrewdest houses in Athas.
- Emblem: Plain gold circle on a black field.
- Trade Goods: Kola nuts, spices, gems, feathers, and other small but valuable items.
As chief house of the troubled city of Raam, M’ke maintains a precarious balance between the reviled Great Vizier and the restive populace. The house’s reputation has fallen somewhat in recent years due to the near-anarchy in Raam, but M’ke has fallen back on its vast cash reserves to see it through. Houses Vordon and Tsalaxa have been applying pressure on M’ke of late, urging it to join the rebels seeking to overthrow the Great Vizier, but so far nothing has come of this.
- Emblem: Silver quill pen on a red field.
- Trade Goods: Weapons, food, metals, and obsidian.
House Shom, the leading trade faction in the city of Nibenay, is an old and (in the eyes of many) corrupt house. Perhaps the decadent atmosphere of Nibenay has affected the house’s rulers, making them strange and merciless. Perhaps centuries of sybaritic luxuries have dulled their minds and convinced them that any means of making a profit is acceptable. Regardless of their motivation, the ancient rulers of House Shom have drifted far from their house’s humble beginnings. They now dream on in oblivion as their house grows old and inhuman and slowly crumbles around them. A few of Shom’s younger members have realized the dire straits their house is in, and they have begun to move to counteract this peril.
- Emblem: Three white dragonflies on a diagonally-divided red and black field.
- Trade Goods: Obsidian, rice, water, lumber, weapons, art, and minor objects.
Closely associated with the warrior culture of Urik, Stel is without question the most aggressive and militaristic of the merchant houses. Stel specializes in the spoils of war—slaves, stolen cargo, weapons and, on occasion, hostages for ransom. While Stel also maintains regular trade routes (albeit heavily guarded ones) and engages in ordinary trade, the house is best known for its violent side.
- Emblem: Pair of crossed black scimitars on a white field.
- Trade Goods: Ceramics, gold, weapons, art, slaves, grain, and iron.
The leading merchant house of the city of Draj is infamous throughout Athas. Tsalaxa engages in endless games of espionage and intrigue in order to secure the most valuable trading contracts. This house is well known for its ruthless business practices.
- Emblem: Pair of glaring, bestial yellow eyes on a black field.
- Trade Goods: Hemp, grain, artwork, ornate weapons, slaves, and contraband dealings.
Once one of the most feared and respected of Athas’ great houses, House Vordon has become something of a laughing stock. This transformation is mainly due to the demented excesses of Tyr’s former sorcerer-king Kalak. Kalak diverted valuable resources
to the construction of a massive ziggurat and all but bankrupted his city. This caused massive resentment among Tyr’s nobles and merchants. With Kalak’s excesses at an end and the city occupied by revolutionaries and former slaves, House Vordon is poised to return to prominence once more.
- Emblem: Black diamond on a red-brown field.
- Trade Goods: Iron, slaves, artwork, and textiles.
Under the leadership of its current patriarch, Tabaros, House Wavir has risen far above its humble beginnings to become one of the most powerful merchant houses in Athas. From its base in Balic, Wavir now controls vast trade routes, dominating the shipment and sale of grain, ceramics, and precious metals.
Wavir’s business practices border on the ruthless, but they are always conducted in accordance with the Merchant’s Code. All profits are reinvested in house operations. House Wavir’s enormous wealth and influence in spite of forsaking the slave trade have led many to speculate that Tabaros has a secret source of income, but so far no proof of this has been found.
- Emblem: Silver jozhal on a blue field.
- Trade Goods: Grain, ceramics, precious metals, food, water, textiles, survival gear, animals, medicinals, wood, and, to a lesser extent, all other commodities and services besides slaves.
Based in the village of Walis in the Ringing Mountains, Ardian wields influence well out of proportion to its size. Controlling much of the vital gold traffic out of Walis, Ardian reaps enormous profits from other houses that must pay a tariff on all gold carried out of the mines above the village. Most of these mines are staffed and guarded by Ardian’s agents and hirelings. All are well guarded and rigged with magical or physical traps and devices set to destroy the mines should any hostile force attack them.
Because of the house’s stranglehold on the gold trade, other houses gnash their teeth and complain about Ardian’s arrogant attitude, but they can do nothing else lest they threaten the gold trade.
- Emblem: Diagonal gold line bisecting a deep red field.
- Trade Goods: Gold.
The Dedys Consortium
This alliance of three small houses (Terg, Voyan, and Shakktur) operates out of the city-state of Draj, normally the territory of the predatory House Tsalaxa. The consortium survives because of its extremely cunning nature, and the generous assistance it receives from Tsalaxa’s enemies, particularly House Wavir of Balic.
In fact, the alliance between the three houses came about in large part because of pressure from House Tsalaxa. After a series of devastating raids by mercenaries in Tsalaxa’s pay, the three houses met in secret in the village of Dedys, where they decided to forge an agreement. From that point forward, resources and information on trade and rivals were to be pooled, and profits were to be shared equally. Almost immediately, House Tsalaxa responded to the threat, sending assassins to behead the new consortium. Fortunately, House Wavir’s agents learned of the plot and warned the consortium. The assassins were ambushed and wiped out, and the bodies sent to House Tsalaxa as a none-too-subtle warning.
- Emblem: Stylized palm tree with three leaves on a yellow field.
- Trade Goods: Silk.
This house is a bit of an anomaly, as it operates out of the slave village of Salt View in The Ivory Triangle. Made up exclusively of escaped slaves and ne’er-do-wells, Fyra is one of the few trade houses that is run democratically. A leader is chosen every two years, and this leader may appoint whatever assistants and officers he or she desires.
While this sounds good in principle, in practice House Fyra is wracked by dissent and power struggles. There is enormous competition, bad blood, and dirty dealing among candidates for leadership of House Fyra. Supposedly democratic meetings have been known to disintegrate into brawls with weapons drawn, serious injuries, and even occasional fatalities. In Salt View, it is customary when witnessing a violent altercation to comment that "House Fyra must be having a meeting."
- Emblem: Rising red sun on a horizontally bisected field, black over white.
- Trade Goods: Salt.
Once on the verge of becoming a major house, Ianto fell on hard times when the trade in Tyr‘s iron fell off (due to the former sorcerer-king Kalak’s dementia). Ianto has considered relocating to another city, but resources are so limited that even this option is not feasible.
- Emblem: Green inix on a red-black field.
- Trade Goods: Iron, silk, and spices.
Another house only barely clinging to existence, Klethira operates out of Urik. It runs its two caravans along the obsidian and slave routes through the Ringing Mountains to the halfling settlement of Ogo. Raids by hostile halflings have proved costly; an attack by an elven tribe recently freed a coffle of over 200 slaves, costing Klethira profits from an entire
It does not help matters that Klethira has earned the ire of House Stel, militaristic traders also based in Urik. Considering itself the sole possessor of the slave and obsidian routes to Ogo, Stel has applied pressure to the Klethira upstarts, attacking several of its outposts along the way. Klethira has attempted to strike back, kidnapping a prominent Stel agent, but this has failed to deter the attacks. With its merciless militaristic attitudes, Stel is willing to sacrifice an agent or two to the cause of disposing of enemies.
- Emblem: Three links of green chain on a white field.
- Trade Goods: Obsidian and slaves.
Driven solely by a quest for profits, Rees is known for its counting houses—lending institutions that invest in smaller businesses and squeeze them brutally for years afterward. Many old patrician families have ties to House Rees or owe it money.
House Rees is one of Balic’s most economically successful merchant houses. At one point it controlled much of the grain trade across Athas, overseeing the shipment of Nibenese rice to Draj, Draji corn to Tyr, Tyrian faro to Urik, and more. House Wavir has largely supplanted it in that field, however, and House Rees now focuses on more specialized foods.
- Emblem: Black snake skull on a gold field.
- Trade Goods: Mercenaries, security, money lending, banking, art objects, gems, luxury items, armor, weapons, war mounts and vehicles, survival gear, military training, slave conscripts, and gladiators.
House Tomblador is a vast merchant dynasty that deals primarily in weapons and armor, and secondarily in fighting slaves. They have holdings in every city-state except Gulg and Nibenay. Tomblador gladiatorial slaves have a tattoo of ownership in the shape of the house’s mark, a white inix.
The sworn enemy of House Wavir, Tomblador gladly deals in the slave trade that Wavir forsakes. Tomblador was the preeminent merchant house of Balic until Wavir arose and displaced it a century ago. Today, Tomblador controls most of Balic’s silt skimmers and the Estuary trade.
- Emblem: Black silt skimmer on a white field.
- Trade Goods: Vehicles, weapons, armor, slaves, textiles, giant hair, and, to a lesser extent, all other commodities and services.