Trade and Currency (Clockwork Jungle)

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The Clockwork Jungle



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Most communities in the Clockwork Jungle are self-sufficient. Whether by farming, hunting, or gathering, everything a settlement needs is generally procured easily from the land around it. In most places, the Forest provides an abundant supply of food, and items for everyday living – pots, furniture, tools, weapons, clothing, and so on – are all supplied by local craftsmen. Money is not an issue, for such habitations seldom have more than a few hundred individuals, and everybody knows everybody else. The needs of the community are known and the volume of exchange is not so great as to require the introduction of a standardized currency. Indeed, barter may even be uncommon; residents pool their resources and produce what is needed according to their talents. In such small groups, this is not a difficult arrangement to maintain.

These community folk, however, are well aware that foreign and alien merchants are only interested in goods they can carry with them to other settlements. Even strictly self-sufficient communities desire some items that they themselves cannot produce. To this end, many endeavor to gather or produce at least one good that will attract caravans and flyers to them, for even communities with no uses for foreign trade enjoy the news, literature, and art that merchants bring with them. For the Iskites, this is typically a product of their farms, alcohol, or metalcraft. Gheen dreys may trade rare edible or medicinal plants, bark cloth, Saryet silk, or paints and dyes. Umbril colonies typically trade in medicine, drugs, poison, or other fruits of their herbal and pharmacological knowledge, but also produce tea and edible fungus. The Tahro only dabble in the creation of trade goods, but often hide caches of skins, Cog components, and crafts of bone and horn to trade with merchants who catch them at one of their camps.



Merchants are attracted to great centers of trade. The shortest and safest routes between these centers have become well known, named trade routes that see the passage of hundreds of caravans every year. The Forest, however, is insensitive to the quest for profit. None of the major trade routes are actually physical things; there are no roads, no signs, and no marker stones to guide a merchant. The Forest swallows all such things very quickly. These major routes must be navigated by lodestones, just as one might do through the rest of the Forest. The way points along these routes, however, are well known – settlements have grown up alongside them where caravans may resupply and rest, and certain ruins complexes and permanent geographical features can be used to assist navigation.

Three major routes of trade exist. The longest trade route is the Rainbow Road, which runs from the Grove of Tranquility on the Black Circle to the Pass of Thorns, the gate to the Outlands, via the Netai and the Duskwine river. The Black Circle route, which skirts the Obsidian Plain, is not as long but sees a greater volume of cargo. Finally, caravans on the Canal Route use the waterways of the Wash to take goods from the Black Circle city of White Lotus to the Sea of Marching Stones.

There are hundreds more minor routes that exist between deep Forest communities, though many only see a few small caravans every year. Forest settlements can’t offer the demand or volume of goods that the great cities of the Netai and the Black Circle can, and these backwoods routes are often far more dangerous (if they exist at all). The profits, however, can be proportionally much greater, as these communities have no other alternatives to acquire foreign goods. A resident of the City of Orpiment has a hundred traders to choose from, but a Forest villager may only have one. A complete lack of competition can be very good for business, making deep Forest routes attractive to a hardier, more intrepid sort of merchant.

Most cargo is still taken by ground caravan, usually on the backs of tzaus. Elephants may also be used for hauling, and even striders when in rougher terrain and with lighter loads. Wagons are generally impractical, lacking the ability to travel in rough ground and dense undergrowth like a beast of burden can. Rivers are rarely used for transport for a variety of reasons. They are often choked with Forest debris, and are host to all manner of exceedingly dangerous creatures. First and foremost, however, they are frighteningly unreliable, for the Forest continually shifts their course. An easy bend could quickly become a perilous stretch of whitewater when the Forest diverts the river with its rampant growth or the destruction of the banks by quickly growing roots.

Increasingly, lightweight and high-value goods are taken by khauta. Khautas can travel much faster and more directly than ground caravans, and need not fear any ground predators or bandits. They exchange one set of difficulties for another, however, and can run afoul of storms, high winds, and Canopy Wyrms. Khauta trade is most important on the Black Circle, but some merchants find the small cargo space perfect for trade between insolated Forest communities that a large caravan’s hauling capacity would be wasted on.


Actual currency is only in significant use in places of dense population; most notably, the cities of the Black Circle, and (to a lesser extent) the Netai. Much of it comes in the form of commodity money – that is, established quantities of a valuable good fit for circulation.


In the City of Orpiment, commerce stands on "citadel tiles," rectangular slips of refined copper. Each one is painstakingly inscribed with a rampant Asheater on one side (the Overseer’s personal sigil), a forge hammer with ivy curling around it on the other (the city’s symbol), and writing attesting to the tile’s purity and weight. The writing wraps around the edges as well, to discourage villains from filing or chipping off small pieces and degrading the weight of the currency. Merchants will often insist on personally weighing tiles, especially in larger transactions.

Metals like gold are considered too valuable to circulate in the form of currency, and gold is more often seen in the form of jewelry or some other ornament (even if it is only valued by its weight).


As a great deal of Black Circle trade is carried by khautas, the fuel of these vehicles has become a kind of currency in itself. This comes in two forms – bricks of pressed and dried peat (or, less commonly, charcoal), and canvas-wrapped casks of highly distilled alcohol. Both can be used to power various kinds of craft and are accepted by most merchants on the Black Circle or in the cities of the Netai. Most savvy merchants will "taste" alcohol to make sure they’re not just getting a barrel of water, but drinking such strong stuff is generally a bad idea. Outside well-travelled khauta routes, this kind of currency is worth significantly less.


A small tea brick, scored into sections.
A small tea brick, scored into sections.

Tea is one of the few things that all four of the civilized races find enjoyable and palatable; even the Umbril, whose cuisine disgusts all others, consume it on a regular basis. Tea leaves can be dried, powdered, and then compressed into a hard brick that is then wrapped in large, waxy leaves to keep the rain off. Tea bricks are usually stamped with their type, grade, place of origin, weight, and so on, and many merchants are capable of knowing the relative value of a tea brick just by glancing at the stamp. They are dense, high-value items that are perfect for trade, and they ensure that a traveling merchant will not only have tea whenever he wants, but food as well. Tea bricks are generally edible (if not exactly delicious) when softened with some water, and one can even find some regional recipes that call for the addition of a chip off a tea brick. Tea bricks are used almost everywhere, but they are especially predominant in the Wash. The Black Circle city of White Lotus, which borders both the Wash and the Obsidian Plain, is considered the tea-trading center of the world, and its various tea trading guilds keep long ledgers recording the rarity and value of thousands of different grades and types of tea brick.

See Also: Imetul Shalkalel

Paper Notes

The spread of block printing has also opened the possibility of paper money. Paper itself was already in widespread use long before the invention of the printing press. The advantages of a lightweight substitute for commodities is obvious, especially when you consider that khauta-borne merchants can only carry a very limited amount of cargo with them. Fears of counterfeiting have prevented any city from printing its own notes, but these may be overblown, as in practice a printing press is not something just anyone can get a hold of. Merchant guilds have stepped in to fill this gap, avoiding counterfeiting by keeping circulation limited.

Guild notes are notes worth a certain amount of a commodity issued by a specific merchant guild. They specify that the issuer will pay the bearer the commodity amount as described within a certain time period (this varies from issuer to issuer). They are not for "general circulation;" rather, they are issued to merchants and other agents of the guild to be exchanged with other guilds that have currency agreements with each other. These guilds keep mutual lists of trusted persons who they will pay a note’s amount to: If a person is not on their rolls, they are not obligated to pay him no matter how many notes he holds. Most reputable merchants are on the lists of several different guild groups and can freely exchange notes between each other, while a street peddler would be unable to cash them in. Still, some who are not on these guild rolls do accept guild notes, assuming that they in turn will be able to trade them to somebody who is.

Generally, merchants pay a surcharge to have their names kept on a roll; the amount varies from roll to roll. Some merchant groups have undergone a transition into something resembling proper "banking:" the Jade Leaf Roll, a group of White Lotus tea traders, presently has very little activity in the tea trade itself. Instead, they make money off regular fees accrued from merchants interested in being on their roll (partially because their notes pay in tea bricks, which are valid as currency nearly everywhere), and from loans made to flyers and traders in which the group sees the potential for profit. The Jade Leaf Counting House is one of the largest structures in White Lotus and counts among its owners several prominent members of the Engan, the landowning class that also elects the city’s ruler.