Review: Dune Trader
by Ramanan Sivaranjan on January 30, 2013
The last of my recent Dark Sun purchases I read was Dune Trader. The book is a detailed look at the merchants and merchant houses of Athas. It’s similar to Elves of Athas and Slave Tribes in its overall structure: a detailed look at specific merchant houses in Athas is followed by some more general exposition on mercantile adventure.
A good chunk of the book is spent describing various factions: in this book’s case trading houses and dynasties. The major trading house of each city state is discussed. Their history, assets, current situation, how they treat people in their employ, and important NPC are all covered in some detail. This is followed by a chapter on some small trading houses, and then a chapter on Elf tribes that engage in mercantile endeavours. As with Elves of Athas, these chapter are all full adventure seeds and hooks. Between the two books, I think Elves of Athas does a better job here: these chapters in Dune Trader feel a bit too anthropological. The long history of a particular merchant house might make for some interesting flavour, but it’s probably not that useful while constructing an adventure. A lot of this book felt like fiction for people who enjoy the historical appendices or digressions often found in fantasy novels. That was certainly a part of Elves of Athas, but it felt to me like there was more going on in that book.
The end of Dune Trader includes a lot of useful information. Examples of how to run a trading campaign are discussed in some detail, with a basic set of rules on how to govern the supply and demand of trade goods. There are also examples of different sorts of trade caravans in case you wanted to run an adventure raiding or defending a caravan. There is also an example elven market and an example trade fort. A new class, the Trader, is discussed, but it strikes me as a bit silly.
I liked Dune Trader, but it’s probably pretty middle of the road as TSR splat books go. I think it would definitely be handy if you’re interested in running a Dark Sun campaign where the merchant houses play an important role, but I feel like it spends too much time trying to develop the canon of Dark Sun, and not enough time trying to show you interesting examples of what you could do with the merchant houses of Athas.
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