The Merchant Priest is at the heart of civilization, with a dual nature, vast wealth and knowledge, and the power to both build and destroy. The Merchant Priest is perhaps the druid’s fiercest enemy, although with a neutral smile and polite etiquette.
There are many roles and professions of a dark and perilous world of treacherous magic, so let us continue our survey with the Merchant Priest, the Servants of the God of Commerce.
The Merchant Priest
The thought of a merchant priest makes some shudder, as a priest should follow a higher calling than simple crafts, accumulating wealth, and materialism. These thoughts may even be heretical.
For others is accumulating wealth second natures, for what is a church without wealth and power? Who would believe in a god unless there is hard evidence of the church’s authority, backed by gold and swords? Religion is never built on faith after all.
The Tasks of the Merchant Priests
The duties of the merchant priest are to oversee transactions of all kinds, including illegal operations, as mortal law has no real moral weight within the priesthood. Laws are important out of practicality or personal preference, rather than ethics. The spirit of any agreement is what’s important. The idea of laws being social contracts, of course, complicates this and has led to countless religious debates in the past and will surely continue to do so in the future.
However, the central tenets of the church can be summed up as follows:
- Protect markets, workshops, storehouses, shops, banks, seaports, roads, places of learning, and other holy places.
- Protect those who work at those places regardless of their beliefs.
- Secure trade agreements, laws and accounts – both old and new – for the future. They are all holy texts.
- Maintain a balance between law and chaos.
- Oppose stifling tariffs.
- Strike at those who break trade agreements.
- Strike at those who destroy infrastructure.
- Promote education and encourage those who hone their skills.
- Invest wealth and make it grow.
The enemies of trade are those who seek wanton destruction or rigid oppression. Travel restrictions and tariffs is another threat to mortal expression and development. Finally, all who oppose the accumulation of wealth or carelessly hinder opportunities are the enemies of the God of Commerce.
The Church of Commerce
The Church of the God of Merchants has a dual nature, working in the grey area between law and crime. Chaotic destruction and rigid tyranny are equally disruptive to trade and must be opposed. The priests believe trade has its own fluid order or mortals, beyond good and evil, or law and chaos. Trade is it’s own thing. Trade must be protected to advance mortal society and civilization.
Merchant priests working inside the law often run banks, markets, guild, and other outlets as businesses. These are sacred places to the church and as crucial as any shrine. The priests protect and support merchants and craftsmen, and ensure both groups have a safe environment to develop their skills and products. Likewise, the clergy fund the construction and protection of infrastructures like roads and harbors.
Merchant priests working outside the law naturally add thieves’ guilds, extortion brackets and smuggler rings to the list, usually combined with legitimate businesses for a diverse portfolio of investments.
Anyone running a bank should know how fraud and extortion works, and the best and most efficient way to dispose of stolen property is, of course, to sell it in plain sight.
Criminal merchant priests see their work equally crucial as their law-abiding brethren, as crime is part of the mortal experience just like any other activity, and all are equal to the God of Commerce. The priests believe crime encourages harder work, greater skill, but the criminal arrangements must be tended with care and wisdom. The profits, or spoils as some say, must be reinvested to promote more crime and civilization, such as it is.
The Church of Commerce train templars and inquisitors just like many other churches, and they are just as fierce and ruthless in their beliefs as other holy warriors.
The difference is, perhaps, that the holy warriors of commerce need more finesse, flexibility, and discretion as their beliefs. Their agenda is more complicated than just smite evil and protect the downtrodden. Many do not understand that the best way of advancing society is to accumulate more wealth, which causes confusion and unnecessary disruption of trade.
The Templars of Commerce
The rank-and-file military arm of the church focuses on protection and under rare circumstances conquest. The templars operate in small units, often secretly in plain sight as small independent guards or sellsword companies. This decentralized and covert structure keeps the church’s enemies on their toes. Any strike against the Church of Commerce must be swift because no one knows how large its army is or where the main force actually is.
The Inquisitors of Commerce
The Inquisitors of Commerce operate in even smaller units and more secrecy. They work to root out the enemies of the church both internally and externally, which often makes them spies and assassins for the church as well.
This secrecy and reliance on good intelligence make them suited as spymasters for lords and guilds, who usually have no knowledge of their retainer’s real occupation. The inquisitors of commerce live interesting, but often short, lives. The many compromises and hard choices also make them vulnerable to corruption themselves. Some become addicted to the murders, while others succumb to greed.
The shadow inquisitors are the darkest and most feared of the inquisitors. They blend with shadows and darkness to strike at the enemies of the church and operate with questionable independence.
There are at least two strains of heresy involving the God of Commerce; those who gravitate towards the right path from other beliefs, and those who have fallen from the right path.
The Fallen of Other Churches
All churches need to take care of their real estate and business, despite claims of loftier purposes. The need for proper management and potential for wealth increases with the size of the church. Eventually, the material benefits are all that remains. Some will claim that the Church of Light has succumbed to greed long ago, and all that remains is delusional heretics actually worshipping the God of Commerce, Mammon, the Prince of Darkness, or a combination.
The examples are many, their fates are sad, and better left for another day.
The Fallen From the Church of Commerce
For some is the thrill of success and the pleasures of wealth hard to resist, the real goals of the faith are forgotten, and indulgence becomes the primary objective of the church.
These fallen followers work and operate within the church, sometimes undetected for centuries. The Inquisitors of Commerce hunt them, but corruption is a slippery slope, and the fallen was initially both wise and intelligent, so their fall from grace is gradual and hard to detect.
The archfiend Mammon is a significant enemy of the God of Commerce. While commerce is about the betterment of mortal existence, Mammon is about greed and ultimately preys on mortals.
Some of the methods and immediate gains are similar, hence the confusion and conflicting interests, but the end result is always direct opposites.
Mammon exploits the similarities to gain influence and misguide those of faltering faith. Some say it is even more severe. This dark lord is, in fact, preparing his triumphant return to the mortal world.
Rewards, Gear and Treasures
There is no greater reward than striking a mutually beneficial deal. That said, scavenging any of the following in a deep dungeon may lay the ground for your next investment.
Any of the following rewards are useful, and perhaps necessary for survival and success:
Monetary Payment. Gold pays for guards, arms and armor, and magic equipment. Proper arrangements are best negotiated from a position of strength, and accessible gold is the most flexible form of both freedom and protection.
Alchemist’s Cache. Few treasures are as useful or flexible as an alchemist’s cache. Potions and elixirs of healing, poisons, and the ability to change form, read minds, or turn invisible are invaluable tools in any negotiation.
Secret Documents. The best reward, and often best defense or attack, is a stack of discriminating documents. Blackmail provides both wealth, influence, and protection. Incriminating documents must be used with skill and care, however, as they can easily backlash.
Vestments of the Merchant Priest. These priest vestments can be worn over a coat or even armor, and offer protection against martial attacks and some say even spells. Elaborate and grand designs are available for high priests and other church leaders.
Tabards of the Merchant Templars. These warrior’s tabards are worn over armor. The tabards are the only uniforms of the merchant templars, as they both consciously want to blend in with independent soldiers, and they have wildly different combat skills and thus differing armor needs.
The real treasures are harder to find and, usually, keep secret:
The Merchants’ Guild Archive. An old archive, like any other secret documents, can be a powerful weapon, but on a larger scale than a stack of lewd letters. Proof of old deceits and betrayals can topple guilds, ruin cities and kill monarchs if used with caution, and has a longer reach than any sword.
The Raiments of the Shadow Inquisitor. The arms and armors of the master assassins are treasured heirlooms of the church. Any of these pieces are potent items in themselves, and a full set is a formidable weapon.
The Swords of the Trickster God. Once, they say, the God of Commerce was a mortal who slew and lied all the way to hell and back, and the god ascended as the previous god fell into darkness. These swords remained on the battlefield, and it is unclear if they belonged to the old or new god. It matters not, as these blades are among the greatest treasures and heirlooms of the Church of Commerce.
When There is No Deal
Many priests and templars go through their careers as preachers, administrators and ordinary guard with little problem. Others have more exciting jobs, some even beyond exploring dungeons or slaying dragons. The real thrill is closing a deal and holding the reins, for what is a god unless the man comes first?
The Troublesome Cargo. Fresh recruits are assigned guard duty for a last-minute cargo shipment. The cargo turns out to be more troublesome than expected when brigands and thugs appear to take possession. Violence, careful intimidation, or a good counteroffer are all options to solve the situation.
Missing Correspondence. A small-time fixer turns up dead, and his archive of stolen letters and documents are missing. Several parties in the city – wealthy nobles, a couple of thugs, two guardsmen, and several merchants – are looking for the killer, and some letters are already offered for sale on the black market. Events are expected to turn lethal shortly unless someone tracks down the documents and assure anyone they are in good hands.
Negotiate Peace. Tension is building in the city as rivaling guilds, or even gangs, are at each other’s throats. Some have stolen cargo, while others have ordered beatings or perhaps even murders. Trade is disrupted, and craftsmen are afraid to go to work, so everybody loses. The clergy is the only faction everybody respects and may be the only chance for a peaceful resolution where everyone benefits.
Gracious Acceptance. Although the last crisis was settled, in a manner, tension is riding high in the city. Some folks are looking to one of the junior priests to take charge and offer encouragement. Perhaps it is time to accept, graciously reluctant of course, but there are a few hurdles still in the way. A rival priest wants the position, and the old high priest shows no sign of realizing the inevitable. Powerful factions in the city have other plans. Careful diplomacy, false humility, and sudden violence are necessary to ensure a safe and beneficial transition of power for everyone involved.
Taking Care of Business. Some say it is lonely at the top, but they are all talking nonsense. Any number for friends and distractions can be bought for a leader of society, so there is no reason to feel lonely. Some factions send assassins, while others offer alliances. Old enemies, devilish sorcerers with no taste for free trade, or envious paladins with delusions of past crimes, make the everyday management of a church and trade company interesting. There is no time to sit around and reminisce about the old days as fresh recruit guards.
For more rampant adventurous paranoia, make sure you check out the other posts in the series.