Even in my Chult campaign, exploration-oriented as it is, I want politics and intrigue to play a part. At the very least, even if my players decide not to care, it will provide some interesting side-quests. The main quest-givers, the “Merchant Princes”, as described in Tomb of Annihilation, are more like simple shopkeepers than powerful merchant rulers.
They all are filthy rich and apparently, in Port Nyanzaru, it’s all it takes. How they managed to obtain so much wealth, despite their city being under Amnian (fantasy spanish) control only nine years ago is superfluous I guess. What we know is that they each have a monopoly on something that is supposed to bring them a really high income.
So let’s see how fares Port Nyanzaru’s economy as decribed in ToA (of course we can homebrew away any of this!):
- Port Nyanzaru is a small city.
- There’s a Dragon Turtle demanding a “tax” from passing boats
- Pirates plague the Seas
- There’s virtually no one in Chult to trade with
- And, you know, undead and dinosaurs aplenty
As for the monopolies of the Merchant Princes:
- Ex-gladiator Ekene-Afa got very rich, we’re to believe, selling spears, leather shields and travelling gears. That’s shopkeeper level, really.
- Ifan Talro’a deals in dinosaurs and dinosaur training. Okay, why not.
- Jessamine deals in plants, poison and assassination. And she got rich, somehow.
- Jobal deals in (lousy) guides and (deathwishing) sellswords. We do know he came out of the jungle alone with treasure, so there’s that (that’s actually interesting, I can work with that).
- Kwayothé sells fruits, wine, tej, ale, perfume and insect repellent (!).
- Wakanga deals in magic and, uh, lore? Yeah… A magic shop, how cute…
- Zhanti deals in gems, jewelry, clothes and armors. I mean, gems and jewelry, that’s fine. Clothes and armors? Less so.
The whole concept of richest guys in town are ruling doesn’t hold water. Why would the people tolerate the monopolies of the Merchant Princes? This would have to be by strength of arms but they don’t seem to have any. In fact, we know they can’t even chase a few dozens unimpressive Flaming Fist mercenaries that are encroaching in Chultan territory.
Okay, let’s reframe this a little with realpolitik in mind:
As I see it, the Merchant Princes achieved preeminence because they played a major role, together, each contributing their own assets, in overthrowing the Amnians. They did not relinquish their position of power in the aftermath, some because they aspired to it in the first place, some for fear of what would happen if they stepped away.
Each have a sphere of influence and none, at the moment, can hope to rule without cooperating with some of the others. They exchange favors all the time in order to have the votes of their peers when it counts.
Already popular when she was a gladiator, she became the de facto leader of the rebels when Port Nyanzaru shook off the Amnians. She would have the support of the people if she made a bid to rule the city by herself, but she doesn’t have that kind of ambition.
- taxes from Inner City’s merchants, in exchange her labor force clear the rivers’ channels
- fishing trade, she had another life before becoming gladiator and rebel leader
- city watch (captain Soshen is her son)
- beloved by the people
- Prevent Tyranny
- Extend safety to all parts of Port Nyanzaru, not only Walled City
Once a mere supervisor Talro’a betrayed his Amnian masters, and profited greatly from it. He now has some kind of alliance with the Flaming Fist mercenaries. A man of great ambition, a populist too, he won’t stop at anything to amass more power.
- meat market
- dinosaur herding
- ivory trade
- allied with Flaming Fist for a split of the profit they do exploiting the ressources of Chult
- his personal guard, the Redhooks (butchers turned enforcers)
- took over the Grand Coliseum games (plenty of spectacles where crowd-pleasing adventurers can earn some gold)
- Become King of Chult
The least avant-scène of the Princes, Jessamine’s influence is felt more in hushed tones than in clamorous displays. Her extensive spy network ensures that she doesn’t miss much in Port Nyanzaru.
- pottery trade, valuable, handmade craft by the gripplis/grungs
- dye trade
- spice trade
- kola nuts
- The Purple Hand (dye-workers turned assassins)
- Spy Network
- Prevent strong rule from happening in Port Nyanzaru
- Eliminate underworld rival Jobal
Since he got out of the jungle alone, with considerable treasure in his possession, Jobal proceeded to buy the allegiance of one of Old City’s gang of thugs. He soon ruled over almost all the other gangs of Old City and Malar’s Throat.
- local extortion
- The Gauntlet (informal justice)
- Gangs (Malar’s Throat and Old City): Sons of Malar, Bridgerunners, the Dirty Talons
- Advance the agenda of his hidden benefactors (he did not get out of the jungles with treasure so much as he we was “released” under specific conditions…)
Kwayothé was barely a teen when she catched the eye of a rich foreigner. She endured many humiliations before she finally freed herself of her master’s yoke. Now a rich merchant herself (having taken much of her former master’s wealth for herself), she strives so that nobody would gain dominance over her ever again.
- gems mining around Port Nyanzaru, to expand she would be in direct competition with Baldur’s Gate Flaming Fist (I see them as East Indian Company-type, ruthless beyond belief)
- She’s a higher-up of the Temple of Kossuth the Everburning (associated with artisanal metalcasting, volcanoes, rebirth, made stronger with pain, fire rituals of purification, etc), a religion persecuted under the Amian but now on the ascent in Port Nyanzaru in my version
- Topple Chultan aristocracy (she’s no friend with Zhanti)
- Diminish the presence of foreign, continental religion
- Drive away or kill the Flaming Fist mercenaries
- Chase off other encroaching northerners (like the greedy Dwarves of the Pick&Axe co or meddling adventurers perhaps)
A moderate in all things, except maybe in his passion for women, Wakanga helped the rebellion only because Amn persecuted magic-users such as him. A powerful wizard, he comes from a long tradition that teaches that magic must be restricted to a few who pledged to use it with strict rules.
- cloth manufacturing (the bright clothes of Port Nyanzaru are renowned worldwide)
- He’s well-travelled and a wise (if a bit fickle) and powerful wizard, many seek his counsel
- Prevent Tyranny.
- He wants to know what his the source of the strange magic afoot in the Old City. Dark and ancient, yet hidden from his scrying attempts.
A rich merchant with royal blood, Zhanti is the consummate diplomat. Her long-term plans are ambitious but she knows she’s not getting any younger.
- salt making
- Harbor, extensive commerce abroad
- Prestigious family
- contacts within foreign interests
- Civilize a large chunk of Chult
- Put her son Shago as single ruler of Port Nyanzaru (Shago is captain of a ship in my version, not a flaming fist flunky)
- Help bring back the Chultan diaspora
- Transform the city into true regional power