And the Bartender Says…
Sigil. The City of Doors. The City of Factions. The City of Money, Commerce, Trade, and Excellent Sushi*. Sometimes life in Sigil is like that joke: a Tiefling, an Aasimar and a Githzerai walk into a bar. They drink, laugh, and bet on anything worth betting on.
These three guys in particular are Athar market movers – a certain breed of Sigil merchant trader. Keep an eye on them. They’re important to this story.
In Sigil, racial, religious, and political tensions never get in the way of making a quick buck. Everyone bets on risky investments hoping for a get rich payout. Everyone knows a guy with a Key to a Door to some Plane. The Planes hold something someone somewhere wants. The trick is getting that thing off that Plane and to the other guy. Simple.
Originally berks smuggled goods across Sigil itself but, as it turns out, Doors aren’t great conduits for moving goods across Sigil Wards. The volume is too small and the risk is enormous. The three market movers tell a story:
There was this guy who got a line on some tiny bison frolicking in the Beastlands and a key to a Door with access. He’d heard that someone in Acheron won a big battle and they wanted a major feast. He got the hookup. He needed to get the tiny bison from the Beastlands to his Acheron contact and he would make a fat payday. Problem was, the Door to the Beastlands was in the Hive and the contact was in the Lady’s Ward for whatever reason – don’t ask. It’s one of those things. So this guy,right, this guy gets through his Door to the Beastlands, herds his tiny bison, and gets them through the Door. Soon as he tries getting them across the Hive, though, berks fall on them with knives. Trash can BBQ for a week. And the guys in Acheron? His investors lost their shirts. Never move items in bulk through Sigil.
The market movers’ job is buying and selling shares on companies. They follow the story with a little financial advice: want riches, invest cash in the Bytopian Merchant Company. The trick to making cash, they point out, is to follow the hot trends, find out who is moving those trends, and invest like crazy. If the company succeeds, they pay out a dividend. Sometimes the dividend is in cash, but usually it’s in stuff. And there’s nothing a berk in Sigil likes more than stuff.
Don’t, they point out, ship goods across downtown Sigil. Don’t be the tiny bison guy. Use the gate towns. That’s what they’re for – so to speak. Build up big warehouse networks, find goods on Planes, and move in bulk. Bulk is where the big money is at. No one makes a fat payday on selling single antiquities found on the Planes. Sure, that’s a way to make a single sale of a lifetime, but that has limitations. Scale is the way to go.
The Bytopian Merchant Company has a line, the market movers say, on some Elysian Sheep. Cloaks made of Elysian Wool are hot hot hot in the Lady’s Ward this season. Rumor has it the Lady of Pain herself wants one although that’s unlikely because if she told anybody that they’d be catatonic right now. But the Factols are one-upping each other and they set the Sigil fashion trends.
Instead of the poor idiot who tried to herd edible cash across the Hive, the Bytopian Merchant Company plans to drive their sheep from Elysium, through Ecstasy, to mass herding pens outside Automata. There’s another company, the Mechanus Wool and Thread Company, with line on some factory just past the Mechanus Gate to turns sheep wool into wool cloth. The Bytopian Merchant Company will transport product to Sigil and sell finished cloth to the clothing artisans in the Clerk’s Ward. Everyone wins.
It’s a good bet, going to make a ton of cash, the market movers say. Those berks only need to get their sheep across the Outlands. Sure… that’s not dangerous at all. If you want, you can buy in now, in the bar. They can close the deal. Buy some shares, invest… and the market movers will talk up your investment on the floor of the Great Sigil Trading House guaranteeing a return.
The Great Sigil Trading House
The Great Sigil Trading House sits on the border of the Merchant’s Ward and the Clerk’s Ward. This enormous building nestles comfortably between a convenient Clerk’s Row for all the notary needs and the shiny new Bank of Sigil where people convert their cash to credit. The Trading House main floor is a huge, open space regularly marked with load-bearing pillars. The Trading House designers painted an identifying number on each pillar. This number might be cloth. Another number might be grain. Toward the back of the open hall stands the pillar for stock speculation. #56.
For only one hour each day – 3-4pm on week days, 10-11am on Saturday, and inexplicably 4-5am on Sundays – the traders gather around pillar #56 and urgently wave their hands, shout, jostle, push, stab, and trade shares in the different Sigil Trading Companies. The Sigil authorities want the entertainment value high and the constant stock trading pandemonium low, so they concentrate the traders or narrow, frantic, insane time bands of active trading. On days when rumors rip through the floor, the entire market either bubbles or collapses.
The Trading House second floor hosts a balcony circumnavigating the large open space. The rich and the interested come when trading opens to sit, sip refreshments (reasonably priced for such entertainment), and watch the fun. Only rarely do fights break out in the balcony space. Up there, the entire game is more civilized.
Outside trading hours, traders, market movers, and speculators gather in the various bars of the Market, Clerk and Lower Ward to solicit possible customers, set up trades, and swap information. Traders sell anything not nailed down and Sigil has no laws against short selling. Betting on a company to fail is fun. Why bet on success when one can bet on a reliable failure?
Today, the Bytopian Merchant Company starts trading.
Nominally, an investment in a single share in the Bytopian Merchant Company is 20gp. The Bank of Sigil provides a normalized price with a number of conversion charts supporting over a dozen currencies from across the Planes so no worries, everyone’s money is good. Speculators watch as rumors about the interest in Elysian Wool (so soft, so silky, everyone wants some) bops about. The share price rises to almost double its opening price settling at end of one day trading at 37gp a share. The three market movers at pillar #56 make commissions every time company paper changes hands.
When trading closes, the Bytopian Merchant Company has enough investment cash for their sheep-based project. The market movers wander around the Clerk’s Ward until they find their favorite notary and close their sales.
Things are looking good for the Sigil Elysian Wool industry.
Whoever has the best, most current information in the Sigil investment game, wins.
Let’s say someone learns Giant Slaars ate the Bytopian Merchant Company’s entire shipment of sheep during their passage across the Outlands. No one is quite sure what a Giant Slaar is, if it might be related to a Slaad, or why it likes to eat Elysian Sheep, but there it is.
This game only works if only one person has that information in their hands. If other people learn about grand Planar failure too soon, the share price won’t rise high enough to make a profit short selling it. No one else can learn the horrible fate of the Bytopian Merchant Company. Everyone must keep buying shares and investing positively and forcing a rise in the share price to maximize its crash. The market makers must keep selling the stock as a great buy.
Short just a tad and then slowly grow the position. When the time is right let the rumor fly, watch the share price crash, make huge money, and crush the company in one carefully planned play. Controlled profitable bedlam.
The short seller is a wealthy Gensai Sensate clothing designer from the Lady’s Ward. She is also the heart of the current Elysian Wool mania. She bought her original wool wholesale and worked it into an object of great desire. She stands to lose heavily on wool Mania if the Bytopian Merchant Company delivers their Elysian Sheep to the Mechanus factories. Once an exceedingly rare commodity found only by tracking the right Door to the right Elysian pasture, it will become common. Everyone will wear it. She will have major competition from the down market Lower Ward clothing designers. Even poor, filthy berks in the Hive will strut around wearing Elysian Wool pants.
It will become… horror of horrors… commoditized.
And where did the Gensai Sensate get the Giant Slaar? No one knows.
But the Gensei is not alone in her monopoly of Bytopian Merchant Company information. Other investors won’t let their positive investments go to waste. They have major cash on the line and pay well for Thievery-based Information services. Between break ins, bribes, stabbings and back alley payments, a single opposing Godsman investor gets the line on the horrific fate of the first Sheep shipment.
No one else on the Great Sigil Trading Floor yet knows Giant Slaars ate the Elysian Sheep. His investment is safe.
The game is still afoot.
Talking up the completely fake success of the expedition gets the gullible to invest more cash into the venture. More cash means a second swing at things. Back the survivors of the first Bytopian Merchant Company go, half-chewed by Giant Slaars, wandering the endless plains of Elysium, and stealing more sheep. This time they hire Professional Giant Slaar Slayers. Luckily, those sort of adventurers hang around in Lower Ward bars waiting for some old man Quest Giver (paid off by the investor) to come along and say:
“Hey, you want to go on an adventure and protect some merchants from high XP and high treasure dropping monsters? It will be good for a laugh and they will pay you at the other end!”
Off Sigil go Murder Hobos on adventure.
The Gensai sits in her short position. The secret Godsman investor sits in his long position. Both pay handsomely to manipulate the outcome of the Elysian Sheep, the Bytopian Merchant Company and the fashion sales of Sigil.
Information is the hottest selling items on the Sigil streets.
Meanwhile, Elysian Wool is still so hot this year.
Those who cannot invest, cannot get into the stock market, and cannot build their own competing shipping companies for Elysian Sheep, go full knock-off. Sigil is the City of Doors and some of those Doors lead to the Prime Material Plane. Surely, comparable sheep live on the Prime Material Plane. They’re not the same but who can tell the difference? Just jump a Door, find a few near-sheep, shave them, jump back, pay off some Hive weavers, and sell them as Elysian Sheep pants knock-offs. Make bank.
Easy, right? No problem? Just need a Door and some scissors.
At the exact midway point through the drama with the three market movers, the Gensai, her Godsman rival investor, the information brokers, and the Bytopian Merchant Company, a pack of mostly drunk Free League Tieflings buy a Key to a Prime Material Plane Door. They jump back and forth with sheers in hand and return with sacks full of a purple glowing substance. They call it “Elysian Wool-ish”.
The people of the Lower Ward and the Hive won’t know the difference. They’ll buy this stuff. They’ll love it.
Scab Elysian Wool products flood the lower rent fashion outlets before the Bytopian Merchant Company finishes their delivery to the Mechanus Wool and Thread Company. It’s total cheap knock-offs but people buy it anyway and strut around the streets looking like the rich nobs in the Lady’s Ward. Why can’t the poor have something for once? Besides, it was cheap.
A huge row erupts in the fashion districts between what is a real Elysian Wool product and what is a fake. Experts crawl from the woodwork propounding the real thing’s importance. The purple wool-like substance causes wearers to turn an interesting shade of indigo while real Elysian Wool, tantalizingly red. The red makes it sexy and desirable! Know the difference before you buy!
The share price for the Bytopian Merchant Company climbs as people fight over the scarce “real thing.”
Meanwhile, on the sheep-bearing Prime Material Plane, horrible horned demons with forked tails appear from nowhere and start attacking villages. They burn down barns (oops). They mutilate cattle. They terrify locals. And they rapaciously shave sheep. A woman claims she saw one eat a baby! Right! In! Front! Of her!
The local Quest Giver at the Village Inn luckily finds some traveling Murder Hobos. For a nominal fee, the village will pay handsomely to rid them of this terrifying demon infection. Also, please find the wizard and/or sorcerer who summoned such horrors and slay him. They suspect it’s the old wizard in the tower on the hill…
The three Free League Tieflings close the Door right as the Murder Hobos close in. They say the Blood War is dangerous but, man, have you seen the Prime Material Plane? Good thing the scab pants made the Tieflings tons of cash.
The Bubble Economy of Sigil
Thanks to Murder Hobo heroics, the second trek across the Planes is successful. The Giant Slaars are dead. Unfortunately, by time the finished Elysian Wool proper hits the Sigil economy, Elysian Wool is so over.
Smart investors got out at the height of Elysian Wool Mania. Right before the Bytopian Merchant Company delivered the finished wool from the Mechanus factories and Automata warehouses, they sold their shares. Thinking something was up as the smart investors got out, the share price dipped and the Gensai made her short sale investment plus a return. This pushed the share price down further. The market makers made their commissions.
But wool is wool and the clothing manufacturers of Sigil buy the cloth. The Bytopian Merchant Company make themselves a small profit. They issue their share holding investors a dividend. Unfortunately, the dividend is in now-market-flooded Elysian Wool sitting in a warehouse in the Gate Town of Automata. It’s up to the investor to collect and move their dividend somewhere more cash-worthy. Rumor has it, a Prime Material Plane just had all their sheep sheered by some Tieflings. They’re probably in the market for some new but now unfashionable Elysian Wool sweatshirts.
The Bytopian Merchant Company winds up. They pay a percentage of their remaining profits into their Faction, the Sensates. The Sensates use the money to throw a huge party to promote their brand. A few poor berks passing through Sigil on their way somewhere else get drunk at the party and wake the next morning without pants and as brand new dues paying Sensates.
The Mechanus Wool and Thread Company continues, as it deals in manufacturing and not in procurement. They take a long position. They are an excellent investment.
Meanwhile, silk made from the webbing of the Spider Queens of Baator is hot, hot, so hot. The Lady’s Ward movers set the tone for next season’s fashions. Cash goes to the first company who gets into Baator, survives it, steals the webbing, moves it to a warehouse in Ribcage, and gets it across the Outlands to a mate warehoues in Glorium. The Ysgard weavers turn the webbing into a fabulous, super light fabric that clings to the skin of fashionistas and warriors, alike.
The market movers in the Lower Ward bar, the Tiefling, the Aasimar and the Githzerai, insist Baator webbing is a great investment bet. Buying shares will pay off handsomely. But move fast. The market might crash any moment now.
Sigil economy is a bubble economy. The crazy berks there are always chasing speculation and pumping up an overheated market with rumor, innuendo, and lies. The cycle goes on. Some win. Some lose.
But the people, and Factions, of Sigil, would have it no other way.
- The place down in the Market Ward has a Door to the Elemental Plane of Water in the kitchen. The Sushi Chef is some crazy Abyssal Devil with six arms. The daily special is fresh, different, and never a wait. Just don’t ask too many questions.
Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games – http://www.patreon.com/VanityGames