Merchants are characters that can be used to trade the resources that are located on the map. They will then generate a certain amount of money each turn. This amount is largely dependent on the skill of the merchant, the base value of the resource and the distance of the closest instance of that resource to the capital. In addition to trading resources, they can also be used to make acquisitions on other merchants. If a successful acquisition has taken place, the target of the acquisition disappears and the merchant will take his place and some money will be added to your faction's treasury. This amount depends on the target's skill and the value of the resource he was trading (if applicable).
Merchants can be trained in cities that have at least a grain exchange. In order to limit the amount of merchants, the recruitment of these characters has been limited to 1 merchant per grain exchange (or an upgrade of the grain exchange). So in effect the maximum amount of merchants a faction can have is equal to the amount of cities that faction has. Three factions can exceed this limit by building a merchant bank or merchant vault in a city. The bank will raise the agent limit by one, the vault will raise it by two (non-cumulative). The factions that can build this structure are Venice, Milan and the Holy Roman Empire.
As said earlier, the amount of money a merchant generates from trading resources is dependent on the skill of the merchant. A merchant's skill is shown by the amount of "finance" symbols they have. This amount is dependent on their starting finance level and the finance they acquire throughout the game.
Altering the finance level of a merchant
- Making acquisitions of other merchants. This will give them the GoodMerchant trait (100% chance) when successful and the BadMerchant trait when they fail (50% chance). Successful acquisitions can give a merchant the MerchantEnemies trait, which lowers his personal security, making him easier targets for assassins (although this is off-set by the increase in finance skill). It takes 8 acquisitions to reach maximum level in this trait (+4 finance), 4 to reach third level (+3 finance), 2 to reach second level (+2 finance) and 1 to reach first level (+1 finance). Failing can lower your progress in this skill.
- Trading resources that are located between 40 and 59 squares from his faction's capital. This will give him the WorldlyMerchant trait (20% chance per turn), giving +1 or +2 finance (depending on skill level). Being 60 or more squares from the capital results in an opposite trait, ServesSelfMerchant. This trait has a 3% chance of occurring per turn a merchant is 60 or more tiles from his capital.
- Holding a monopoly over a resource. A monopoly is held when two or more merchants from one faction are the only merchants trading two or more instances of the same resource in the same region. Example 1: Two of your merchants are trading wool and the third wool icon is not being traded --> monopoly. Example 2: Two of your merchants are trading wool and a third merchant is trading the third wool symbol --> no monopoly. A merchant can receive up to three extra finance in this way. It takes 5 turns (of holding a monopoly) to get the first level (+1 finance), 10 turns for the second (+2 finance) and 20 turns for the third (+3 finance).
- Surviving acquisition attempts. When a merchant survives an acquisition attempt he can receive the SecureMerchant trait (50% chance), resulting in +1 or +2 finance (depending on trait level). It takes 6 attempts on average before reaching the second level of the trait.
- Surviving assassination attempts. When a merchant survives an assassination attempt he can receive the SecurityMerchant trait (50% chance), which gives him better personal security. The second level of this trait also gives -1 finance. On average it takes about 6 assassination attempts before this occurs though.
The Starting Finance of a Merchant
- Presence of a town hall (or better) on moment of recruitment. When a town hall is present there's a 50% chance of the merchant receiving the first level of the LegalDealer trait ("Legal Nouse"). If the first level is present there's a 33% chance of getting the second level of that trait ("Legal Expert"). In short there's a 35% chance of your merchant starting with one extra finance, 15% chance of starting with two extra finance and 50% chance of starting with no extra finance. Training a merchant in a settlement that doesn't have at least a town hall can give the ShadyDealer trait, which works exactly opposite to LegalDealer. So 35% chance of starting with -1 finance and 15% chance of starting with -2 finance (50% chance of not receiving the trait). Not having (at least) a town hall will also give your merchant's a 5% chance of receiving the "trick abacus" ancillary, which gives +1 finance. But this isn't enough reason for deliberately not building this structure.
- Random chance of acquiring natural Skill. On creation of a merchant there's a 100% chance of acquiring the NaturalMerchantSkill trait. This can then lead to additional levels in this trait. In short: 16,5% chance of getting +3 finance, 33,5% chance of getting +2 finance and 50% chance of getting +1 finance.
- The presence of (at least) an alchemist's lab. Having this building present gives your merchant 15% chance of receiving the "counterfeiter" ancillary, which gives +1 finance.
- The presence of (at least) an alchemy school. Having this building present gives your merchant 50% chance of receiving the "merchant clerk" ancillary, which gives +1 finance.
- The presence of master merchant's guild (or headquarters). Training a merchant in a settlement that has this building will give that merchant extra training, resulting in +1 finance.
- The presence of the merchant's guild headquarters. If a faction has this building, all it's merchants will receive a trait that gives +1 finance. This is a separate bonus from the master merchant's guild (so in essence merchants receive +2 finance).
- Being the Turks and having at least a merchant's guild. Turkish merchants that are trained in settlement with this guild will automatically receive the two training types, resulting in +2 finance. This means that there is no reason to attract the master of headquarters version of this guild, other then denying other factions the headquarters (since there can be only one).
- The level of own religion. Training a merchant in a settlement with over 80% own religion and with at least a cathedral present, will give them the ReligiousMerchant trait (50% chance). Having the first level of this trait (-1 finance) will give 33% chance of reaching the second level (-2 finance). A merchant can't have both ReligiousMerchant and ShadyDealer at the same time.