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Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord - Economic Failure

Red Thomas Posted:
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Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is one of my favorite games of the year.  Like its predecessor, the game sets a stage and then allows the player to navigate their way through a breathing world that feels dynamic and alive.  While graphics aren’t precisely best of the best, the game still looks good.  What’s more important is that the game has incredible depth when it comes to weapons, armor, clothing, and due to the highly dynamic NPC and recruiting systems, the army compositions are constantly changing and that makes every battle totally unique.

The world is so complex and dynamic that you sometimes find yourself making assumptions where you really don’t have the data to support them.  You know what assumptions do, and in this case it’s done mostly to me.  I had a plan, I had data, and I had the will to execute.  I also had some bad assumptions that smacked me around a bit.

I thought readers might enjoy hearing the ruinous tale of Justin bin Lyran and his dreams of becoming a cattle magnate in the world of Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord.  Big dreams and a methodical approach weren’t enough, as I found out.  Let me tell you about my mistakes and some of the harder lessons that I learned.

Early Warnings

I should have known that I was going down a bad track.  Plenty of other videos have been made about the economy of Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord and I’m relatively sure at least some of those content creators had access to the devs.  In those videos, cash is earned in a few commonly-repeated ways.

Players can attack bandits or raid villages to collect gear and capture hostages for ransom at the nearest inn, where you also happen to be able to participate in tournaments.  I touched on some of that in a previous article, but then there are other “merchanty” ways of making cash that I’d glossed over in that article.

I’ve found plenty of videos talking about purchasing businesses in various cities and running caravans, as well as information on when each was more appropriate.  Of course, there’s also the taxation acquired from captured lands, which was a bit more militant that I wanted to be with this character.

Horses showed up in green, but the prices weren’t as good as the computer would have you think.

Basically, the consensus seems to be that the way a merchant would make money in the game is to first get enough through more militant means to purchase a few businesses in different cities.  That lays the initial foundation and establishes a base level of revenue, which is then used to fund caravans that are the real money-makers for the typical economy-minded playthrough.

I knew all of that going into this, but I just wanted a more direct and hands-on approach to the process.  Afterall, a caravan is precisely what I was doing, but I’d be using data to maximize profits in a way the automated version of a caravan likely wouldn’t.  I reasoned this would allow me to make more money than the typical caravan but would obviously consume more time.  The tradeoff seemed fair and I was glad to give it a shot.

Market Volatility

My early findings were encouraging as I limited my rotation to a handful of the central cities, and a few additional cities to the North and West to get a slightly more robust sample size.  I kept notes and tracked prices in general, which I discovered worked in what looked like a series of bands.  This was encouraging and I thought it suggested at a measure of each city’s need of a resource. 

That meant I’d be able to buy low in high supply areas and sell for more in high demand areas.  Armed with a spreadsheet where I’d worked out maximum buy and minimum sell rates for nearly every resource, I went to work.

I was very successful early on and doubled my money several times.  The market started to neutralize, though.  As supply prices rose due to my purchasing most of the demand prices dropped as I brought desired resources into those markets to be offloaded.  The city where I’d bought hundreds of mules for 30-40 gold each began to sell those same mules for over 70 gold.  The city where I’d sold those previous mules for nearly 300 gold each was suddenly only offering about 120-150 gold per mule.

I was able to slip in right ahead of a siege, but the impending military action had no impact on the prices at all.  Kind of a shame.  That’d be a really cool price dynamic.

At that point, the market was reaching homeostasis and that’s bad for trading, but I looked at it as a good sign.  To me, this was an indication that the market was as dynamic as the rest of the game, which got me excited.  Theoretically, supplies of specific goods and livestock should be higher in certain regions, and those supplies would be in extra demand in others.  Potentially, supplies might even be impacted by war, making it hard for a region with no sheep to get wool while at war with the nearby region that typically supplied them on more peaceful days.

This is where I made the assumption that would eventually bite me in the rear so hard.  I believed my homeostatic markets were just regional and that I’d just saturated the local market.  My personal bubble was about to burst like a mortgage-backed security.

Black Tuesday

I’d just finished writing up an article about another game and was getting back into Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord to implement my master plan.  I knew I need to collect more data, but I had ironed out my strategy and I was ready.  I started by working my way towards the Khuzait Khanate.  I thought I’d start by collecting some of the best horses in the game from the source and work my way back towards the Empire to find a good market to offload them.

I had trouble finding any mules or horses in general at a decent rate, so I bought a few here and there as I could and otherwise loaded up on various goods, not knowing what would sell well in the Khanate.  When I got to the Khanate, I found prices to be much higher than I’d expected.  Strangely, prices on the other goods that I hadn’t traded much in the Empire such as wine and oil were doing far better.

I was never able to purchase a large number of horses at a decent rate and eventually began making my way back towards the Empire with a few raw goods and a handful of horses in tow.  I had managed to find mules for around 50-60 gold, but I knew I’d get some decent rates in the Empire and could offload them for a profit.

One thing that did go well was that my Trade skill went up a ton and my character leveled several times.  Buying and selling is a great way to safely level a character.  Fighting in arenas along the way just makes it more effective.

In the process, I did see that cattle prices seemed to be decently high as I passed through the edge of the Khanate and back into the Eastern Empire.  I ended up having to chase down looters fir a time in order to generate more money as all my cash was locked inside goods, but I made it without missing any payments to my troops.  That’s where things started getting weird, though.

Coming back into the Empire, markets that had purchased fur and leather at obscene rates before were just okay.  I could offload a few of each, but the prices dropped quickly with each sell, leaving me with hardgoods and prices too low to sell anymore.  I traveled around the empire trying to sell raw goods where I could, but I just couldn’t find any decent markets for them.  I also found what I thought were decent rates on other goods such as wool and cotton, only to not find any other cities where those goods were in demand.  Even salt, which had earlier been in high demand in multiple cities was being bought at barely better than break-even rates.  I’d made a killing on those resources before, but this time the markets didn’t seem to want to buy or sell anything badly.

I made my loops back north once more, picking up cattle, sheep, and a few hogs where I could.  I did end up finding a few cattle markets where the buy price was decent and loaded up.  I was still hauling too much weight in wool and cotton, though.  The going was slow as I crawled around the map and yet again had trouble finding mules.  Worse, the horses I’d bought weren’t worth as much as I’d hoped in the new market.   No horses were.

As I looped around and came back into the northern edge of the Khanate again, I was getting frustrated.  Hardly anything was selling at decent rates.  I was selling a little of several things in each market, but no particular good was in high demand anywhere I went.  Once I entered the Khanate, I found cattle were incredibly high and was able to sell off the herd a little at a time for decent money, but everything else was pretty weak sauce.  Even oil and wine, which had done well before, was now also barely better than even.

Again, I ended up having to supplement my income with bandit-hunting, and again I made the loop.  I collected cattle which had been selling well, but that run ran into trouble, too.  Cattle were higher in markets with high supply and where they should be cheaper and selling for much less than they had been in the markets that were in-demand before.

It was terrible.  Where I’d been flush with cash before, I was now resource rich and capital poor.  Worse, I was moving more slowly after selling most of the mules when I finally found a decent rate for them that didn’t drop too much while I was selling.  That’s when I decided to take another look at my data.

Rigged Game

I’d collected Khanate-specific data, because the plan had been to discover what goods were generally selling for less and being bought for more in each region.  Looking at that data, it seemed like prices had normalized much as earlier prices had back in my first few trade routes.  Selling prices came up a little and buying prices dropped a lot.  Even more strange, some of those large price fluctuations were on goods I hadn’t even sold in the Khanate, but where just goods where I’d kept one to check prices as I came though.

I don’t really know how it happened, but prices normalized so much that I’m currently stuck with about 15,000 units of goods that I’m now selling off a few at a time as I find rates above the level I set for myself.  It’s a frustrating situation, mostly because there are rules at work here that aren’t functioning the way I would have expected.

It seems like the market is global and there aren’t regional markets as I’d expected.  Every city sets the price of a good based on that good’s global value and only deviates from that value by a small amount.  I might be wrong, but it seems that as a given good is sold (even in other markets) it pulls the buy/sell prices towards the middle.  So, buying sheep in Sargot makes the global sheep purchase price rise, causing sheep in Makeb to raise in price, as well.  Since NPC sell prices rise faster than buy prices, the result is global normalization of rates.

I’ll be back to fighting in arenas and hunting down bandits for a while as I rebuild cash reserves and switch to the real estate game.  Not really what I wanted to do, but you do what works.

It’s not a major problem because there is still some fluctuation, so there is some small profit to be found.  More than ever, it is important to buy low, though.  My dreams of purchasing herds of horses and cattle in the East and driving them back to the Western Empire for huge profits has pretty much gone up in smoke.

At this point, I think the only way to play my character as a trader baron is to raise more capital and switch back to the two more common revenue generation paths of purchasing shops and paying for caravans.  Then, when I come across ridiculous buy opportunities, I’ll take advantage of them.  That’s just kind of a bummer because it’s not precisely what I was trying to do.

Path Ahead

I’m not done with the game, though I may eject from this character and move on to something else.  The frustration is that I wanted to be a roving trader and not just a small-time peddler selling odds and ends at each stop along the way.  I wanted to be transporting a goods in bulk from one market where they’re made to another market where they need them badly.

Buying shops and funding caravans is something I can do on any other character.  It’s just not as interesting as doing the trading yourself, or at least it’s not to me.  It’s also possible that as I go forward, I may find some missing piece to what I’m looking at now and realize my perception of what’s happening was flawed.

For now, there’s a level of frustration with a failed plan that makes it a little hard to decide what to do just yet.  Besides, it’s always better to let things settle a bit before making big moves.  More importantly, I need to dig myself out of this hole and get rid of all this cargo so that I have the capital to do whatever I decide to do.  That adventure is ahead of me, though.  These mistakes are in the past, but hopefully sharing them has helped a few of you not make them.  At least, telling myself that takes some of the sting out of it.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.