What's a Sect?
of the Vine
Misers, The Gold-Hounds, The Hidden Hand
Copyright 1998 by
Thanks also to
Gothenem and Katclaw for quotes
NB: The Merkhants were introduced in the
Planescape Monstrous Compendium II, p. 62.
What do you want?
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.
I don't know what happened to him. Does it matter? Shall
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.
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.
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
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Except from an unpublished interview with Tarnin
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
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.
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.
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 will easily fall 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, and then they can fight
over who has control of it.
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, a cruel, manipulative and greedy man, who is
therefore more or less a typical Merkhant.
you're more annoying
than a broke
Human, planar, male,
Str: 10, Dex: 11, Wis: 17,
Con: 12, Chr: 16, HP: 23, AC:
Spellbook : (* usually memorised)
1st: Burning Hands, Charm
Person*, Alarm, Identify, Feather Fall*, Magic Missile*,
Sleep, Tenser's Floating Disk, Wizard Mark, Friends*,
Detect Magic, Read Magic.
2nd: Alter Self*, Fool's
Gold*, Knock*, Undetectable Alignment*, Vocalize, Wizard
Lock, Web, Ghoul Touch, Forget, Levitate.
Clairvoyance, Dispel Magic*, Acidic Blast*, Hold Person*,
Slow, Tongues, Suggestion.
4th: Emotion, Leomund's
Secure Shelter, Stoneskin*, Bestow Minor Curse*, Ice
Storm, Native Item.
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 the single richest person
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.
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.
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
guarding the treasure?
I'll just get a Sensate
solving a problem
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.
tend to have long memories, and the influence to bring
such enemies low several years later.
of the Merkhants
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.