"When aspiring apprentices walk into my office, I tell them straight away that working as a journeyman trader is the only way to learn this business. If you just want to earn a living, well, then become an accountant or a sales agent. But you'll never get rich playing with your abacus all day if you're just tallying another man's profits."
Randolf Schmiermann, Former Merchant Guildmaster of Schoppendorf[2a]

Major Trade Routes of the Old World Map.png

Though war is all too common, there is more to life in the Old World than the fury of Ulric. Men and women toil on their farms from Estalia to the eastern reaches of the Empire and as far as Kislev. Craftsmen work in the cities, taking raw goods and producing something useful for society, from soap to a fine suit of Marienburg mail. At great risk to themselves and their fortunes, merchants travel the trade routes that crisscross the lands, offering finished and raw merchandise to those with coin to spend or goods to trade.[1a]

Economic Processes

The Old World's economy relies on a distinct process. Raw goods are cultivated and sold to finishers who in turn sell to the population at large. Peasants toil in their fields to grow grains and vegetables, or they herd livestock, which they slaughter for meat and hides. When they cultivate their goods, they sell to finishers, such as leatherworkers and millers. Miners extract ore from the Middle Mountains and sell the raw stuff to metalsmiths, who in turn create weapons, armour, cutlery and jewellery. Most finishers sell their goods at the local level because few have the resources to move merchandise to different markets, and so they rely on merchants to move their finished products throughout the Old World.[1a]

Trade Routes

There are three major ways trade goods move through the Old World: the sea, the river, and land. River barges prove the most economical, as they can move goods faster than caravans, and they are safer, being mobile fortresses capable of repelling bandit attacks. All the waterways of the Old World see barges laden with goods from all over, traveling from one city to the next. The Great Ocean is treacherous because of Sartosan Pirates and Araby Corsairs who prey on fat Bretonnian Merchant Ships and Tilean barges. The waters are so dangerous, even the superior warships can do little against the fleets of pirates who make it their business to sack cargo ships for the treasures carried.[1b]

Dry caravans, usually great trains of wagons, travel the many roads in between the centres of civilisation as well. Most of these heavily-guarded wagons see some combat on their journeys, and rare is the caravan who does not spend at least a portion of its travels on a river barge.[1b]

The most famous trade route is the Silver Road. This route connects the nations of the Old World to distant Ind and Cathay. Few caravans braving the long journey survive the hordes of Hobgobla-Khan that prey upon them. But because a single trip can make a person wealthy enough to live the rest of his days as a lord, many brave the uncharted wilderness between the west and the distant east.[1b]

Trade Goods

A map of the goods of the Old World

Though Marienburg and Kislev's Erengrad are powerful trade centres in the Old World's economy, the Empire is the largest producer and consumer. The Empire overshadows the Estalian Kingdoms, Bretonnia, and even the cutthroat merchants of Tilea, and all merchant houses consider the Empire in their dealings and negotiations. The economic centres of the Old World follow.[1b]

  • Altdorf -- The capital of the Empire, site of the Imperial Palace, and home to the Cathedral of Sigmar. Altdorf is the heart of the Empire. Devout worshippers from all over make pilgrimages to the Cathedral to receive a blessing from the Priests of Sigmar, and while there, they spend considerable sums to delight in Altdorf's tourism, be it the taverns, tours of local breweries, museums, government buildings, or even to stare in wonder through the gates of the Emperor's home. Situated at the confluence of the River Reik and the Talabec, Altdorf also sees a regular influx of merchants who cross the provinces on river barges laden with goods from many lands. Even Altdorf's universities and libraries draw regular visitors; for they are said to be the greatest in the world.[1b]
  • Marienburg -- Though no longer part of the Empire, Marienburg claims to be the largest port in the world, serving as the main trading centre in all the north. Thanks to its position at the mouth of the River Reik, it sees equal inland traffic as it does seaward. Furthermore, any merchant who would do business in the Empire's interior must first pass through this great city, and so the people there get first pick of the imported goods from Bretonnia, and at the very least they gain the benefit of steep tariffs. Consequently, Marienburg's merchant class is quite powerful, but also varied, as representatives of the High Elves use this city to distribute their wares to Mannish races throughout the Old World.[1c]
  • Middenheim -- Given their remoteness and differences of religion, Middenheim is not a major trading centre. They grow just enough basic foodstuffs to feed their populace. A trade route leads to this city from Marienburg, but its scarcely travelled. And though Altdorf merchants do bring goods to this northern city, few do in favour of more lucrative markets.[1c]
  • Nuln -- A centre of learning and a common crossing point over the Reik before entering the forest, Nuln is a growing power. Foremost in siege weaponry design, it produces some of the finest weapons in the world. Its ambitious universities are supported by the city's location on a trade crossroads, which brings great wealth from southern merchants. Nuln also produces many fine wines and exceptional metalwork from Sudenland.

The Empire's agricultural centres include Reikland, which perfected advances in farming to reduce the food shortages of the previous generations. Competing directly with the Reikland are the Moot's rich pastures that produce some of the best beef and mutton anywhere, to say nothing of their fine beers and flours that are mysteriously free of weevils. Also, the Halflings sometimes export furs and hides (they are well-known for their leatherworking); although, they can't compare to the output of the expert hunters and trappers of Talabecland and Hochland.[1c]

Beyond the Empire

Though the Empire's merchants compete with their Kislevite, Bretonnian, and Tilean counterparts, they do so good-naturedly. They don't see their neighbours as much as threats as they do rivals. On the other hand, traders from Araby (cunning and cutthroats all) are in direct competition and have access to all manner of goods, dealing directly with Ind and Cathay, which allows them to corner the market on spices, silk, and other finished goods.[1c]

  • Tilea -- The Empire's biggest rival is Tilea, whose marketplaces swell with the influx of strange imports and stranger foreigners. Legendary for their shrewd bargaining skills, Tilean merchants are second only to the Araby dealers, whose negotiating skills are legendary. As a nation, they export grains, cattle, goats, sheep, silver, and Tobaro gemstones to ports all over. Tilea also supplies the Empire with mercenary forces.[1c]
  • Bretonnia -- Equally rich in trade, Bretonnia produces the finest warhorses, finished gemstones and gold, wine, brandy, and more. While significant, most of their wealth lies in the coastal cities like Bordeleaux, L'Anguille, and Brionne. Couronne produces wheat, wines, and meats, and they enjoy heavy trading for luxurious silks and spices brought from Estalia to the south.[1c]
  • Kislev -- To the east, Kislev is also an economic power, especially in the trading port city of Erengrad, whose influence and command is second only to Marienburg. There, goods from as far west as Bretonnia and Estalia find buyers from all over who come to do business in this rapidly growing city. In exchange, Erengrad sells commodities culled from the Norscan coast such as whale oil, ivory, timber, tar, and fish. Courageous traders continue dealing with the savage Norscans to acquire rare and valuable goods.[1c]
  • Estalia -- Estalia does brisk trade as well. Even after Bretonnia repelled the Araby invaders, merchants from the exotic land do much of their trading here, and Estalian merchants, in turn, trade these goods to their neighbours in Bretonnia and the Empire. Supplementing the transport of Araby merchandise is the power of their fishing fleets, who sell their catch in the Old World's famous barrels of pickled fish. Magritta, another great port famous for its hard stance against pirates, does a lot of trading with northerners, using the produce grown from their rich agricultural industry and the silver from vast veins in the nearby Abasko Mountains in the east. Estalians traditionally despise Tileans, and trading with their neighbors is rare.[1c]

Religion & Magic

Civil and commercial responsibilities occupy most of a merchant's day, leaving precious little time for prayer or study. Merchants who attain positions on the town council listen attentively to the clergy’s concerns and are mindful of their public images. Charitable donations help to allay suspicions of corruption, and the savvy alderman can exploit his post for commercial gain without compromising civil duties.[2b]

The journals of merchants are filled with personal confessions and convoluted screeds, in a vain attempt to reconcile material greed with spiritual truth. These journals may be worth a small fortune in blackmail money to enterprising thieves, and in rare cases, may even warrant the attention of a witch hunter. After all, trading expeditions occasionally return items that would have been better left alone...[2b]

In addition to the popular gods, traders and merchants also worship Handrich (or Haendryk) and, more recently, Ranald the Dealer. The cults of both gods originated in Marienburg, and they are currently considered only minor deities in the Empire. Handrich is the more popular of the two, but even a few legitimate merchants have begun whispering appeals to the Dealer at night. Handrich and Ranald the Dealer are competitors.[2b]

Secret Societies

Public visibility and occupational nepotism can lead merchants to organize secret societies, the goals of which may include fostering a spirit of competition, alienating competitors, or spiritual enlightenment. Membership in these societies is hierarchical, with the inner circle often being co-investors in a trading company. Junior members may be blissfully unaware of the society's true agenda—thankful only for the chance to join a clique. Occasionally, these societies dabble in ritual magic.[2c]

Imperial Trade Zones

Trade Zones of the Empire Map.png

The Empire is divided into eleven Trade Zones; ten within the Empire itself, plus the Marienburg Delta, which extends into Reikland and Middenland. Political boundaries have little influence on trade, with the notable exceptions of the free cities Kemperbad and Nuln. Talabheim is also a chartered city-state, but has broadened its cooperation with devastated neighbouring towns following the recent Chaos incursion.[2c]

Razed Zones

The Old Forest Road and North-east Passage were razed by Archaon's hordes in 2521-2522 IC. Merchants do not sell products in razed zones. Only buying and bartering are possible. However, selling in the impregnable city of Talabheim has become an exception to this rule.[2c]

Regional Diets

Regular market fluctuations limit the duration of commercial alliances, and therefore Trade Zones do not represent formal merchant leagues, per se. Occasionally, regional merchants will organize trade fairs; rife with backstabbing, bribery, and conspicuous displays of wealth. These trade fairs are often accompanied by a grand assembly (or “diet”) of merchants, nobles, and politicians, held at the local merchants' guild or town hall. Agreements signed at diets rarely hold for long, unless they intersect with provincial or Imperial politics. For example, present-day free cities have gained their independence largely through negotiations conducted at regional diets. In exceptional cases, diets may attract merchants from other Trade Zones seeking amendments to provincial or Imperial laws.[2c]

Ancient Trade Routes of the Dwarfs

Ancient trade routes between the Dwarfs and Elves.

Through diligent research of grudges, and by matching those that concern the dealings of traders and merchants with references to ancient maps, one can make an approximation of the extent of both the Elf and Dwarfen empires during the Golden Age.[3a]

Some of these routes were Dwarf-built roads, which still survive to this day and are used by the caravans that cross the Empire of Man. Others follow the rivers, as merchants do today, for the Elves in particular were highly skilled in the manufacture of sail-craft, while the Dwarfs built trading vessels of their own. One can immediately see that these routes were extensive indeed, for this was a time of expansion and exploration for both races. Dwarfs and Elves traded on fairly even terms. The Elves, for their part, greatly prized Dwarf-made goods, mostly for their function even if the design was not necessarily to their liking. It is said in some accounts that the Dwarfs even fashioned items after the aesthetics of the Elves on occasion, to fetch a higher price, though such a thing is unthinkable these days.[3a]

The Elves brought goods that the Dwarfs could not procure for themselves, such as spices from the east, finely woven silks, ivory of Southlands elefaunts used by the Dwarfs in decoration, as well as a considerable amount of gold and gems from distant lands. The free trade between the peoples of the two races flowed well for hundreds of years, and it was in the interests of both to keep these lines of trade open and free from raiders. Thus, one can see that man's earliest settlements are also concentrated close to those places where trade was highest - where man was safest - and several of the Empire's cities and those of other nations are built upon literal and figurative foundations laid down by the Elves and Dwarfs.[3a]


  • 1: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Old World Armoury
    • 1a: pg. 11
    • 1b: pg. 12
    • 1c: pg. 13
  • 2: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- The WFRP Companion
    • 2a: pg. 29
    • 2b: pg. 32
    • 2c: pg. 33
  • 3: Grudgelore
    • 3a: pg. 48
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