“In charge,” was literal. The merchants controlled their little country. They had royalty of a sort. They were quite proud of their royalty. They enjoyed showing them off at every special occasion. Their so-called King even had a vote on the country’s controlling board. But the cold reality was this: the merchants were in charge.
The merchants took over the place and changed all the silverware. They made changes to the country’s priorities. Before, when Kings ruled the people, the King’s priorities shaped the laws. And the King’s priorities mostly revolved around the King. The King’s other priorities were the treasury, the church (who supported the King), all the cool things the King got to do that no one else got to do, and a side of conquest.
The merchant priorities were profit-motivated. Out went the church. Out went the old, outmoded legal system tilted to benefit royalty and noble friends. In came the profit motivation, the stock exchanges, the commodity markets, and the Transmuter Bankers. Once the merchants unleashed their infant capitalism, the money – and abuses that followed – came with it. And that was pretty awesome, because it made a ton of people, including Murder Hobos, rich.
The merchants established enormous companies that rolled up to corporations. They built huge fleets of ships. They sent their Murder Hobos far and wide to strange foreign countries. Murder Hobos established footholds, rolled the locals, and brought back enormous riches.
Flags on masts fluttered in the thousands at enormous wharves. Ships waited to sail to unknown lands and take their stuff. And the merchants were pretty proud of what they built. It looked great in oil paintings hanging in richly-appointed parlors.
They forgot about the Kings because they had so much money.
The Kings did not forget about them.
Outsourcing a War
Kings have three core motivations:
- Their treasury.
- Ensuring their son is the next King.
When King sit on their thrones, gaze out their windows, and contemplate little countries run by heathen merchants with no proper respect for Kings or Law or the King’s brand of religion, Kings see little plum rich ornaments they could add to their glittering collection. The problem, though, are those wharves filled with pretty, picturesque ships.
And here is a King pondering kicking over the merchant’s little capitalistic paradise.
Invasion by land requires this particular King to take all the land around the merchant’s little country and then push into the interior. Also, lighting cities on fire is fun. However, a land invasion involves invading and conquering a nearby country – his nephew’s. That would destabilize his nephew’s crown. And this King spent political and financial capital getting his nephew on that Throne.
The King decided to leave the nephew where he was for now.
Instead, undermining the merchant’s funding would be the fun thing to do. The funding came from overseas adventures and claiming of foreign goods. If the King weakened the merchant’s navy, he could cripple their source of capital. If he could weaken their source of capital, then their corporations would collapse. No corporations, no Murder Hobos, and no one to resist him. Then, the King could attempt a landing by sea. No need to get the nephew involved at all.
Thus, the King went to war by sea. He sent out the press gangs to force people to man his navy. He ordered forests chopped down to build more ships.
The Merchants could handle it.
Kings declaring war and sending out their well-funded Navy to attack merchant shipping was worrisome. But, the merchants weren’t resource-free. They had money and they had bankers. They also had plenty of ships. What they didn’t have is their own formal Navy.
So, they made one out of money.
Letters of marque weren’t exactly new. Sending out privateers in the name of the King is an old invention. In the days past, the letters of marque were in the name of a specific King or country and handed out, like prizes, to the King’s personal Murder Hobos. They were special and celebrated. They made pirates into Knights of the Seas.
Was there anything that made letters of marque special except they were rare? What happens if they’re less rare? Can merchants make a navy out of letters of marque and pure, naked capitalistic profit motivations?
The merchants threw their letters of marque on the open market. Anyone could buy a letter of marque. Anyone can fund a privateer and keep the profits. Totally! Legally!
War wasn’t a problem. Hell, war was a profit opportunity.
Financing the Privateers
Time for everyone to make money regardless of alignment, God, or creed. The more unsavory, the better!
The King’s officers loaded the King’s navy with fun things to steal and sell. Cargo included: ships, magic weapons, magic cannons, wizard gear, and expensive clerical regalia.
And it worked like this:
- The merchants printed piles of letters of marque for sale and dropped them on the open market. Profit collected went back into the country’s treasury. That money in turn was pumped into improving wharves for more ships;
- Transmuter Bankers advertised loans at generous rates of interest for those wishing to finance a privateer ship (transmuting loans into profits!);
- Merchant investors pooled together, formed companies, and signed loans from the Transmuter Bankers;
- Those companies invested their cash into privateer ships. But, they got skittish and reached out to insurers;
- The Guild of Abjurers, runners and executors of local Murder Hobo Insurance Agencies, offered insurance policies on privateer ships to these companies. Abjurers built insurance pools around privateer risk, which was quite high;
- Shipbuilders and wainwrights hired every able-bodied worker available for a 50 mile radius to pump out ships for War;
- Local companies constructed new warehouses as fast as they could build new warehouses;
- Merchants legalized selling booty from privateers in local open markets;
- Privateer captains, in the employ of companies, boarded crews of Murder Hobos with generous terms on taking and keeping treasure (i.e. most of it);
- And the merchants running the country declared privateer bounties import tax-free.
Swarms of privateers left port eager to take the war against the King to the open seas. Once at sea, they jumped the King’s ships left and right. A successful privateer mission turned into free extra ships for the merchant’s companies. Once in port, sailors tore down flags, shaved off the King’s arms, and sent the ships back to seas. Privateers even stole supplies off the King’s ships, took them to various company’s on-land Murder Hobo encampments where they could get better prices (read: gouge), and sold goods to starving settlements.
Understandably, this pissed the King off. He sent more ships. And the Transmuter Bankers (who also financially backed the King’s debt-fueled Navy-building binge) lowered their interest rates. They offered the King generous loans. Shipwrights built more ships in both capitals.
War happened! Kerpow! Kablooie!
And then, Pirates
So, uh, yeah, those ships? Loaded with armed Murder Hobos? Once on the open sea, Murder Hobos weren’t really in the employ of those merchant investors. They had an armed ship full of supplies. Yes, they promised they would go hassle the King’s Navy and have some fun. But, that meant returning to port with booty, selling that booty, and handing the proceeds over to the merchants. Then, the merchants would pay off their loans to the Transmuter Bankers, cover those in arrears insurance payments, and fund the investors. Everyone was happy – except the privateer crew.
What did loan payments to Transmuter Bankers, payments to the Guild of Abjurers, and investors have to do with a privateer crew?
Privateer captains thought: “You know what else is full of super amazing and awesome booty we can just take?”
Other privateer ships.
Tasty tasty tasty privateer ships.
Not all privateer ships went bad. Many of them made money for their investors. But crews were expensive, and there’s only so many good-aligned sea seasoned ship captains and crews to go around. Even good-aligned ship captains go bad once on the open seas. Think of the fortunes they could make for themselves if they went rogue!
During the war:
- The King’s naval vessels attacked the merchant’s privateers;
- The merchant’s privateers attacked the King’s navy;
- The merchant’s privateers went pirate and attacked privateers and naval ships alike;
- The King’s naval ships occasionally went pirate too (because why not) and attacked privateers and naval ships.
The sea filled up with pirates. Ships that went rogue blew their investment. Insurance terms triggered. The Abjurers paid out, covered the costs of the loans, and hiked everyone’s rates. The hike in rates pissed off other investors, so they started calling for anti-pirate laws. Anti-pirate laws meant sending out more privateers to hunt down rogue Murder Hobos with pirate ships and sink them.
Pirate ships found haven with off-shored company-based Murder Hobo encampments busy making corporate profits. Pirates would sell their booty to fellow Murder Hobos, good or evil, for cheaper than the privateers or the company suppliers. On-land Murder Hobos even built the pirates little pirate hangouts with taverns and inns. The pirates would periodically return with gear refills and the occasional magic sword or upgraded wizard gadget they pulled off a King’s Naval or Company Privateer ship.
Company agents running Murder Hobo settlements wrote back to home base. The pirates weren’t that bad! They kept the Murder Hobos kicking over ork villages and taking their stuff afloat for cheaper! Maybe the company, already funding privateers fighting the King’s Navy, should consider funding the pirates under the table! Consider the profit motive! Adventuring groups! Cheaper!
But investors were screaming. They wanted to be made whole for their lost investments. Companies had to balance between the cheap Murder Hobo supply runs, investors, Transmuter Bankers, insurance agents and the loss of expensive ships to piracy.
What were merchants supposed to do? They had a war to fight and profits to make.
The merchants decided to make an example out of a couple of pirates, sink a few more, and crow about it in their nascent press. Look at all the famous pirates we’ve captured, they said. We’re merchants of Law and Order. The rest the merchants paid under the table and looked the other way.
And this only works for pirates as long as there’s money in it
War is war, and they are not always won.
Once the Merchants and the King got to a point of stalemate, the King looked at his dwindling supply of cash, took his ball, and went home. Until, of course, he asked for a loan from the merchants so he could go to war with his nephew.
Piracy only works as long as there’s money in it for Murder Hobos. Once the war was over, and fewer ships to jump, the pirates wandered off to go attack merchant shipping. But with fewer targets, pirates had less financial incentive. There’s more money in going on-land and carving up a few orks.
But then again, there’s always a new war. The moment the King and the King’s nephew went at it on the high seas, the pirates had new pickings. They were well-appointed ships. Lots of on-land Murder Hobs would pay handsomely for that gear. And there were always investors willing to take a pirate’s cargo off their hands to help them cover their delinquent loans to the Transmuter Bankers…
Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games – http://www.patreon.com/VanityGames