Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord - Starting with Economy
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is a game that I reluctantly put off playing for a while. Real life issues needing my attention, a few other games that I was already on the hook to write about, and various other issues got in the way. There was also some personal strategy to it, as I wanted to kill some dead time over the summer while I wait on another game that I’m excited about.
The time was finally right, and I decided to start a new MB2 game from scratch. Then, I hit another rut as I was creating my character. I didn’t want to just do another normal run, building up a power-stack of an army and crushing everyone around me with trivial effort. I wanted to do something different, and then it hit me.
I’d like to introduce you to Justin bin Lyran, a man who will conquer the world through economic might, political intrigue, and appropriate application of occasionally illegal clandestine activity when warranted. His story might be of interest to you. If not, then the methodology and information that comes from that playstyle will most certainly be of value. Join me today as we set off on a surprisingly epic tale.
In the Beginning…
I won’t delve too deep into Justin’s background, because I took all the nominal choices you’d expect for a merchant-type character. Where only non-economic choices were before me, I focused on endurance, riding, and archery. My plan was to be the sort of character that hired talent to fight my battles on my behalf. After putting the character together, I skipped the tutorial and set off to find a name for myself.
I was a little bummed that choosing Aseri didn’t start me in that particular region as I entered the game. I knew it wouldn’t, but it’s an immersion-breaking choice that doesn’t really make sense to me. I get that you have to start off next to the training arena in case you want to run the tutorial, but think it’d be better to prompt about the tutorial earlier and then spawn the character in the chosen region if they elect to skip it.
Since I was there anyway and knowing that the imperial archers end up being the best utility archers in the game, I started by recruiting my first army of imperials before heading south to find a warmer climate. Through attrition, most of those imperials were killed off, leaving me with a decent squad of archers supporting from behind general desert rabble. A decent unit for running down and dealing with looters, but not exactly a force to be reckoned with if I’m honest about it.
A lot of the first couple hours in the game was wandering up and down the coast building an army that was increasingly composed of a solid formation of archers supported with light cavalry. I was hitting above my weight consistently, but I wasn’t really playing the game I’d set out to play. I wanted to focus on trading and financial growth, but I had very little of that initially.
Early tournaments helped me to acquire gear and cash to get started, and later became central to my effective restart with the same character.
Making that transition wasn’t simple because some mistakes were made. I’ve played these games before and I’d watched a few videos on trading in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, but it just wasn’t clicking for me. I’d often see something in a city market that seemed like a good buy, only to break even or lose money in the next city. With upkeep for the troops, even a breakeven was a loss.
As I looped back through the Western Empire, I decided I was going to focus on two immediate things to reset myself and get to a point where I could make an intentional next step with a plan behind it. I focused on completing the Folly quest and on participating in every arena tournament I could find while I did.
This was in part to just knock through that part of the story and get it out of my way, but specifically participating in tournaments gave me much-needed growth in combat skills with no negative effects. The few I won also gave me weapons and armor that could be sold for seed money. As I completed the quest, I ended up in Battania, which worked well because by then, I had a plan.
My problem was really a data issue. I’d been buying and selling based on my gut, but that clearly wasn’t working. The prices were too random, and I still had no idea what good and bad actually looked like. Thus, I decided that I needed data. By the time I was ready to start working on my plan, I had about 4,000 in funds.
I invested my money in purchasing a few mules to increase my carrying capacity and then I purchased one of everything I could, which still wasn’t much. I bought extra of the consumable goods and just hoped they’d last me a while. I then proceeded to travel city to city, even stopping in villages, and collected information on what the merchants were selling their items for and what they would pay me for the items in my inventory.
Trading is also a fast way to level your character, even better when combined with the additional experience from tournaments.
I didn’t have every possible commodity in my inventory and obviously not every merchant did, either. I ended up collecting 6-8 entries for most non-consumable goods, and I built a little data on some of the consumable goods, as well. For the first time, trading was yielding relatively consistent results. In fact, I started buying extra items to collect data on some of the goods I hadn’t been able to afford initially, and I specifically looked for opportunities to purchase consumable goods in bulk, as well.
As my inventory loaded up, I purchased more mules and horses to expand it even more. Then, I had an epiphany as I unloaded a bulk purchase in one of the towns. The mules in that town were nearly three times the price I paid for them originally, and when I looked again, the other horses were in similar demand.
I sold of most of my mules and made a very sizable profit. That’s when I decided to start tracking livestock prices, too. Before long, I had a whole new plan, but I needed data first. Thus, began another round of data collection, which also helped refine the prices of the other goods, as well. I specifically updated highest and lowest prices to ensure I had those captured, and then left the other prices as a reminder of what the normal spread tended to look like.
I found that prices seem to come in bands. It looks like there’s a nominal price for a good and then there’s a range of percentages of price adjustments for towns where that good isn’t in demand, another band for where the good is over-stocked, and another for locations where it’s in high demand. There also appears to be a second range of percentages off that price, which is what merchants will buy a good for. The result is both the price of the good and the purchase price are fluctuating in what appears to be rates almost independent of each other. There are times where the merchants will buy a good for the same price that they are selling it, and times where they’ll pay far less.
This sort of double modifier is why I was having so much trouble making money early on, I think. Once I collected data on merchant sell and buy prices separately, I began to see the patterns shake out. I built a spreadsheet with the raw data for goods on one tab and livestock on the other. Then, I compiled that data into a single tab where I listed the minimum prices and maximum prices for buy/sell of each good. I then looked at the spread and chose a number that I would not buy over and another for what I would not sell under. Lastly, I compared the buy/sell guide for each product and adjusted each good so that I would never buy for more than I’d sell down to.
While I use the larger table in general, these specific items seem to have been consistently more profitable and are what I keep an eye out for.
Executing the Plan
To steal a phrase from one of my favorite TV characters, I love it when a plan comes together. Armed with my new data and my revised plan, I was ready to get to work. My idea was that I wouldn’t just buy/sell goods, but that I’d include livestock in that program, as well.
Livestock has two massive advantages. They don’t count towards your carrying capacity, so it’s free weight. The second benefit of some is that they actually increase carrying capacity, while hogs, sheep, and cattle secondarily count as portable food sources. Turning what used to be an expense into self-transporting profit increased my margins dramatically. It also meant I was rarely at max capacity, and thus move far more quickly.
Tournaments continue to be a good way to earn extra cash and gear, but the big benefit is practicing combat skills I don’t use as often with this character.
This makes it easy to chase down random criminal elements on the map without losing much time, which in turn increases the experience of my army. Even better, this method gets me in town after town, which allows me to continue participating in more tournaments, which of course increases my own skill and resources at the same time.
What I found most surprising in all this is that mules were such a brilliant money-maker. I’ve managed to sell them at over seven times my purchase price a couple times now. That’s the best margin on anything I’ve seen so far. The fact that they also massively increase my capacity is just icing on an already generous cake.
I’ve continued to refine the plan a bit as I go along. My original data has holes in it where I wasn’t able to collect good information on some goods and I certainly don’t have what I need for all horses yet. Plus, I’m pretty confident that horses from one region will sell better in another, and it’s possible that selling in non-contiguous regions (selling Khuzait horses in the Eastern Empire, for instance) will be even more profitable. My original loop through Northern and Western Empires, Battania, and Vlandia was great, but I need region-specific buy/sell information.
I’m excited. I’m making solid money, and of course will be making even more as my capital to spend increases. I’m planning to start massive horse herds and driving them across the continent to exotic markets. Along the way, I’ll use my pricing information to pickup goods and sell them, turning the carrying capacity into revenue throughout the trip. Maybe it’s because I come from a line of horsemen and ranchers, but the idea of pushing a herd of mustangs across the open steppe is just a thrilling idea.
Through this process, I’ve learned a few things that readers might find helpful, and I thought I’d wrap up by sharing them here.
Don’t Sell Food – Consumable goods can make a profit, but it’s not enough to spend much effort on. More than any other commodity, I found that the prices on food were just unforgiving. Merchants regularly asked more and gave less for food items and the margins are terrible even when there is profit. I now use the guide for determining when I’m getting a good food price, and effectively see it as a cost-saving measure, rather than one of profit.
Except Beer – Beer is the one exception to this rule. If you get a really good buy on it, beer can go for 2-3 times the purchase price and is worth picking up. Your troops will drink through a little of your stock, so don’t wait too long to sell, but this is one consumable that can be worth speculating on.
Mules are Gold – I hated mules when I was growing up, but they’re gold on the hoof in MB2. You’ll constantly find them reasonably priced, and sometimes even at a massive discount. Where they’re needed, they sell for a boatload. I buy every one of these furry little buggers I can afford.
Everything in Moderation – When it comes to buying and selling, don’t let the gold trip you up. Prices fluctuate as you buy and sell, so there’s a point where your buy price can exceed the acceptable point, or when the sell price can drop too low to be profitable. You don’t have to sell it all in every town, just buy/sell to the point where the price is no longer desirable and then stop. This’ll increase your margins and ensure you’ve always got a little to sell in every town you come to.
Okay to Pass – It’s okay to say no sometimes and just not buy or sell anything in a town. It’s not often, but I do occasionally pass through a town where there’s nothing to be bought and none of the sell prices are good. Don’t lose money trying to force products on a community that doesn’t need them. Just move on and get that profit in the next town.
Buy for Profit – An old investor’s mantra that’s virtually always true has been constantly true in MB2. You make your money on the buy, not the sell. Don’t buy at a reasonable rate hoping for the big score. What you’re not seeing is the risk you’ve just added to the good, and that detracts from the value. Make your money on the buy, so you know you can offload at a profit any time you want.