The Merkhants

Also known as: The Misers, The Gold-Hounds, The Hidden Hand

Lack of Money is the Root of All Evil

Symbol of the Merkhants

“Yes. What do you want?

“Oh, so you’re the reporter. Well as long as you are going to do an accurate article. I find that so many of the things that have been written about me have been slanderous lies. Take care, young man. I don’t like being slandered. The last person who did so ended up owing me everything that he owned. And some more besides. I had to sell him into slavery on Acheron in order to meet the settlement that the courts gave me.

“No I don’t know what happened to him. Does it matter? Shall we start?

“Let’s see. I suppose I began in trade when I was just a child. I was growing up in Tradegate, of course, which is something of an advantage, and my father was a blacksmith. He also sold some of the stuff made by the gnomes. He was reasonably well off, I suppose, or least we never wanted for food on the table, but he never really saw the potential of what he was doing.

“I was probably only about six when I realised the power of money. I was friends with a boy across the road, whose father was a tailor. One day a rich man visited them, and ordered a suit from the tailor. He decided to stay in Tradegate until the suit was finished, which was going to take about a week. he stayed at the best inn in town, and whenever I saw him, he was sitting outside the entrance, with a glass of fine wine in one hand, usually dictating documents to his manservant.

“On the day that he was due to leave, the father of one of the serving maids at the inn accosted him, and accused him of having been, how shall I put it, indiscreet with his daughter. The father was demanding that the rich man marry his daughter. The rich man just laughed, and offered him a purse of 100 jinx to shut up and go away. He never even tried to deny what he had done to the girl. The father got all indignant, and refused. So the rich man said that the father should have taken the money when he had the chance, and motioned to his manservant. Which was when we discovered that the manservant was also a very capable bodyguard. They left town that afternoon. The father died about a week later from his injuries.

“The point is that if you meet something that you can’t buy, you can buy something to deal with it. I started saving money that same day. And have never stopped.”

—Except from an unpublished interview with Tarnin Golthax

Sect History: The Merkhant sect’s history is a little unclear, as for many years there was no defined group sharing the same ideal, although there were a number of individuals who clearly believed strongly in the philosophy that the Merkhants preach.

The Merkhants as a group seem to have sprung into existence about 550 years ago. They were formed by a woman called Rhivena, who appears to have been trying to build up a list of the wealthiest people on the planes. Many believe that Rhivena was doing this with the intention of finding out which merchants would make good targets for her own expanding business empire. Shortly after completing the list, however, there was a major attempt from the baatezu to undercut most merchants on the planes; part of a plot to bring planar trade within the control of the lawful fiends, who would then manipulate it to financially cripple the tanar’ri Blood War effort.

By uniting with each other, the merchants were able to defeat this threat from the fiends. It has recently been suggested that the yugoloths may have had a role in bringing the Merkhants together, and thus thwarting the baatezu plans. There is, however, no actual evidence to suggest that this was the case.

Having discovered that there was a benefit to sometimes working together, the Misers agreed on a policy of mutual respect. Of course, that has never stopped them trying to cheat other members of the sect. Indeed, if two Merkhants set up business in the same town, they will attempt to ruin each other until one is forced to admit defeat. Sometimes the winner has spent so much bringing about his victory, that they risk easily falling to the plots of their next rival. Despite this, the Merkhants have generally agreed that they should attempt to bring all the multiverse’s wealth to the sect first, and then they can fight over who has control of it.

The current leader, or Master, of the sect (a position that is determined simply by who can prove, to the satisfaction of the other members, that they are worth more than any other member) is a human called Tarnin Golthax (planar human wizard [he/him] / Sectol of the Merkhants / LE), a cruel, manipulative and greedy man, who is therefore more or less a typical Merkhant.

Pike it sod, you’re more annoying
than a broke Merkhant!

—Common planar expression

Tarnin became the leader of the Merkhants nine years ago, and has kept his position against all comers. His worth has not been accurately determined, even by other Merkhants, but he is almost certainly one of the single richest cutters alive today. This is a position that he maintains by ruthlessly exploiting his rivals’ weaknesses. Tarnin rarely becomes involved in open conflicts, preferring to destroy his opponents through crippling their businesses. He usually finishes by taking over the defeated opponent’s companies, and amalgamating them into his own. For more information on the scope of his influence, see The Dark. Tarnin is almost always accompanied by his three bodyguards, who are fanatically loyal to their employer. The current three are a human, a tiefling and a half-ogre. They change on a fairly regular basis, however. Tarnin himself rarely becomes involved in combat, however he owns a spectacular array of magical items, and is almost never found without an item ideal for the situation. He uses his magic to gather intelligence, and takes a childish delight in using alter self to acquire information personally from people who do not realise who he is. Reputedly, he once was told about a plot to assassinate himself whilst using this spell. He sometimes uses the spell as a means of building up an established personality, to be used as a disguise when his own face is too well known.

Tarnin Golthax, Sectol of the Merkhants

Sect Headquarters: The Merkhants are based around the gate-town of Tradegate. On the rare occasions when they have a general meeting (every five years apart from special ones when a challenge to the leadership is made), they assemble in the town en masse. They take over virtually every room in every tavern in the gate-town. By common agreement, feuds between members are suspended for the duration of the meeting (although many take the chance to acquire new allies against a rival). Surprisingly little business is done during this time.

The actual meetings take place on the estate of Baron von Karlyle. The Baron was a member of the sect who, on his death 255 years ago, willed his vast estate to the main rival of the then Master. This resulted in a shift of power, and therefore a change of leadership, and ever since, the estate, which lies about 20 miles from Tradegate, has been the home of the ‘secretary’ of the sect. This position, which is vitally important to the sect as it is the secretary who catalogues the wealth of the members, is filled by a long serving member who wishes to retire from the day-to-day subterfuge that the sect regularly practices. The secretary is expected not to reveal confidential information about members, and in turn the businesses of the secretary are regarded as sacrosanct. Of course, there have been secretaries who have abused this tradition, attempting to expand their business empires whilst relying upon others not to interfere, as per tradition. Such secretaries have generally met short and painful ends.

So there’s a red dragon guarding the treasure? I’ll just get a Sensate who’s never been burned to get it for me”

—Merkhant solving a problem

Role-playing the Merkhants: The average Merkhant is avaricious to extremes. They are interested only in what they can get from a situation, person, etc. Of course, to get what they want, they may come across as being quite friendly. Most Misers are quite good at acting, and disguising their true objectives and intentions from those who observe them. Those who are capable of using magic tend to prefer charm based spells, ones that appraise items, or ones that can be used in manipulating other people. In combat situations, most Merkhants will turn to their hired muscle, and flee at the first opportunity. They will even be willing to leave behind gold or (non-unique) magical items, as what they have with them is never the limit of their wealth. Be sure, however, that the person who ruins a Merkhants plans for acquiring further wealth has made an enemy for life. Misers tend to have long memories, and the influence to bring such enemies low several years later.

Membership of the Merkhants: The sect admit only people who have managed to amass a significant quantity of wealth. The exact figure changes constantly, as by tradition you are required to prove that you are worth at least 25% of what the current leader was worth when they last had to answer to challenge. If, for example, the Master was worth, at last estimate, one million gold pieces, then a person seeking entry to the sect must prove that they are worth at least 250,000 gold pieces if they are to be accepted. Newcomers are usually nominated by sect members, as the sect do not actively promote themselves, or encourage new members. If a member sees someone that they feel lives up to the sect’s standards, then they will usually broach the subject of the sect with the prospective membership. If they show interest, they will be given more information about the Merkhants. By tradition, new members are to be left immune to the plots of current members for six months after joining.

No-one of good alignment can join the Merkhants, however the split between evil and neutral members is fairly even. Similarly, there is no particular bias in terms of the law-chaos axis between members; some are simply more willing to work within the framework of established legal proceedings than others.

In terms of classes, there is a slight bias towards rogues (usually thieves but there are some bard members). There are obviously no paladins or rangers (alignment), and there has never been a druid member (no interest in commerce). Between fighter, wizard and priest, however, there is a fairly even spread. Wizards tend to prefer defensive spells, information-gathering spells or charm spells. Merkhants who belong to a priesthood tend to worship a God of such areas as wealth, trade, and avarice.

Allies and Enemies: The Misers get on quite well with the Believers of the Source, as the Merkhants do not generally believe that there is anything special about the Gods. After all, everything has its price, and that includes even the Gods. They also quite admire the Fated, an attitude which is reciprocated. The Fated and Merkhants will almost always support each other in any philosophical conflict, unless they are directly competing for an item, or some other material sign of wealth and power.

The Guvners dislike the Merkhants quite a bit, as the Misers rarely bother paying any attention to the law on their route to wealth. The sect has also earned the enmity of the Hardheads and the Mercykillers for the same reason, although to a much lesser extent. Most of the other Factions have relatively little interest in the Misers, unless they should come into open conflict, although the Ciphers rather pity the Misers for their obsession with gaining material wealth, and whilst the Sensates agree that closing a successful business deal that brings you a lot of wealth, power and influence can be a very satisfying experience, they believe that the Misers should move on and try to experience something else.

Advantages and Disadvantages: All Merkhants gain the ability to appraise the value of any gem or work of art both instantly, and accurately. What they do with that information is up to them, but they usually use it to try and con someone else. However, Misers never do anything where they cannot see how they will profit from it. For PCs, this means that they must be able to make at least 100% profit on any investment, which would include the cost of garnishes, etc. Basically, no Miser ever does anything that they do not expect to benefit themselves.

The Chant: There is rarely much chant concerning the Merkhants as a sect, as they rarely act together as a sect. There is usually much information to be had about any of the members of the sect, but most members are not openly members, and so discovering whether something you’ve heard about some merchant involves the Merkhants in any way can be quite difficult. However, as a general rule, anything that you hear that involves a particularly well-off merchant, or a particularly big deal that involves a lot of jink, almost certainly has a Miser involves in it somewhere. If you want information on particular members, you’re generally going to have to dig deep into their past, or their business dealings, and even then you might not find the Merkhants mentioned once.

One piece of information that has recently emerged is that a challenge for the leadership is liable to be made soon. There are three people in the running to try and overthrow Tarnin. First is Dolan Greenbank, a gnome from Bytopia who is one of the most important figures in Tradegate. Another is Root of Nine, a rogue modron who has begun to manipulate the laws of commerce to its benefit, but has moved most of its dealings away from Automata, although it still has considerable influence in the gate-town. Root of Nine now bases itself in Sigil, though few of it’s actual business dealings are actually in the Cage. The other possible challenger is Tarak de Leynon, a native of Sigil who has recently moved the vast majority of his wealth into land and possessions on a prime material world. Which world he has chosen as the repository for (according to rumour) over three-quarters of his wealth is unknown, although it is something that any other Miser would gladly pay a lot of jink to discover.

The Dark: A challenge to Tarnin is indeed likely to appear soon, although probably not for two or three years. Currently the main contenders are jockeying for position. Tarak has indeed moved most of his wealth from the planes, but has actually used three different prime material worlds as his base. Meanwhile, he is attempting to distract attention from those worlds by establishing a very profitable business importing fine wines from another prime world, called Curnon. 

The knowledge that the Master may soon change has most of the Misers who are not in the running for the position trying to predict who will emerge victorious, and to ally themselves with the winner. Many old scores are being settled as they all attempt to manoeuvre themselves into being close with the new Master. It is a dangerous time in the sect as there is even less trust than normal between the members.

Favourite to win, however, is Tarnin. It is widely believed that when he became the Master, he did so without admitting his true wealth, and that since then he has become considerably richer. Tarak has the best chance of ousting him. All three challengers have been doing some investigating into Tarnin’s dealings, however, and some interesting information has come to light. Tarnin is known to hide much of his influence in holding groups, and under a variety of aliases.

What has been discovered by all three of his rivals, however, is that Tarnin is behind no fewer than seven companies that deal with the trading of Baatorian green steel. This means that he is responsible for about 70% of the planar trade in green steel, and over 90% of the trade of green steel that goes on in Sigil. Since this information came to light, there are a lot of people who seem to remember Tarnin making quite a few business trips to Ribcage, and many who’ve seen him discussing something with a baatezu in a tavern in Sigil. Rumours of a secret deal between Tarnin and some baatezu high-up have been gathering strength and whilst many are clearly unlikely, such as the ones that link him to the Dark Eight, or even the Lords of the Nine, it seems certain that he has some connection to the fiends. Currently, his rivals are trying to find out what exactly he’s getting from them, and what he’s giving them in return. Rumour also suggests that Dolan Greenbank has opened discussion with the tanar’ri, hoping to persuade them that if Tarnin is helping the baatezu, that the tanar’ri should help him in order not to allow their enemies an advantage. How successful he’s been has not been reported.

Source: Galzion
Canonical Sources: The Merkhants were introduced in the Planescape Monstrous Compendium II, p. 62.

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