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Silk: The Unofficial 1986 Retro Manual
By Dark Blue Monkey
Silk is a wonderful re-visit of the feel of RPG games of yesteryear. This manual is an attempt to create a 1980s style retro manual.

Playing it in the old school style, with pen and paper brings back all those wonderful feelings we had in the 80s of discovering new places, creating trade routes and stories. The manuals in the 1980s were real labours of love. They not only had how-to sections, but had fun stories, background history, artwork and a plethora of interesting hooks to drag you into the world of the game without needing to rely on flashy FMV.

I hope you enjoy reading up on the background of the Silk Road, and the fun retro-style manual. A huge thanks to Chris for making this great game, and I wish it all the best in its launch, and look forward to its growth and fame :)
Welcome to the Unofficial 1986 Retro Manual
You are about to embark on one of the most arduous and most notorious treks in all of human history across one of the largest land areas portrayed in an RPG trading game. Few overland trade routes have spanned such great distances and so many cultures.

A deep history of the region would overflow this manual a dozen times over and still leave some information to spare. We’ve tried to give you the flavour of the main happenings at this time, so some terms and some names may be slightly anachronistic. For example the Han Dynasty didn’t fall suddenly in 220AD, it had been crumbling for many years, but for shorthand we omit some of the detail. 200AD is a time of great upheaval and unrest. Empires are rising, while others are falling. Not everything is as clean-cut as the history books make out.

I hope you enjoy reading this document as much as I had making it, and hope it helps you to understand a little of the era, as well as help you play the game. I have tried to make the document as an homage to the old school as much as possible, so you’ll find a decent mix of history, personal observations from characters as well as hints and tips to give you a flavour of the gameplay.

If, however, you prefer to just read a set of hints and jump straight in to playing, you’ll find the hints and tips sections at the end of the manual. I do recommend that you read some of the history, though, it’s a fascinating time!

At the end of the document, after the hints and tips you’ll find some links to more information, if you’d like to know more about this fascinating time of upheaval and trade.



p.s. If you see any errors or omissions, please drop me a note and I'll update the manual!
INTRODUCTION – A Brief Introduction to the Silk Road, AD 200
By 200 A.D, the great Roman Empire had reached its zenith, providing a form of peace and prosperity for much of Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. As the Romans expanded their influence across the western world they build a vast network of roads, built garrison towns, forts and trading outposts to keep the lifeblood of the empire flowing: money. Yet, all was not simple in the Roman Empire. A highly centralised organisation with non-Romans considered second-class citizens, their deities quashed and their local customs eradicated, led to unrest among the many tribes. The Roman legions were constantly fighting skirmishes against raiders, putting down uprisings and violently repressing any signs of dissent, nowhere more so than on their Eastern flank.

The full width of the Silk Road was over 7000 miles. The above just shows some of the primary routes. Secondary, tributary routes stretch throughout the whole continent, and often meet at the cities along the Silk Road itself.

For the unwary traveller, passage through the empire could be perilous if the wrong road was taken! Nowadays we say “more haste, less speed”. Then, the Romans would say Festina lente! Plan your route carefully, ensure you have the right provisions, bring appropriate protection, and above-all, avoid the dangerous areas!

The Romans were adept seafarers, connecting much of their western empire with sea-trade routes. The relative calm of the Mediterranean permitted great wealth and cargo to be transported this way. By this time the Roman Empire extended south as far as the Red sea, allowing Roman and Greek sailors to effectively bypass the less easily traversed Arabia. This was resulting in a decline in all but the seaward parts of Arabia.

By sea, however, trade with the far east required a long, circuitous, dangerous journey around the coasts. Therefore the prime method of trade with Rome’s far eastern partners in Northeast India, Tibet and China were the great overland trade routes leading from Asia Minor and the Levant (the eastern shore of the Mediterranean where Israel is located today), eastwards through inhospitable deserts of modern-day Syria, Iraq, then Iran, then pushing further east through what is now Afghanistan, then at the foothills of the western Himalayas, which strike a strong West-East line across the middle of the continent, the highways split, with trade routes passing to their north through Tajikistan and Tibet into western and northern China, or along their southern edge through what is now Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and into southern China.

Setting out from Rome’s easternmost cities, such as Antioch, the immediate neighbour to the east was an empire known as Parthia. Many have never heard of the Parthians, despite the empire being a thorn in the eastern-flank of the Roman Empire for over 300 years by 200AD. Almost 50 years beforehand, the Romans had attempted to quash this troublesome foe once and for all, almost succeeding, but ultimately being beaten back by a virulent plague which afflicted its army, often thought to be smallpox. The Roman Empire suffered for years under the merciless spread of the plague after the army’s return, only renewing its offensive against the similarly weakened Parthians in 197AD, just a few years before our tale begins. In 200AD, the hostilities are at their height, and will not end for another 15 years or so, seeing the assassination and death of many rulers on both sides, and then a pyrrhic victory for Parthia in 216AD, holding the Roman Empire in a costly deadlock.

At its height, several hundred years previously, the Parthian Empire had stretched all the way from modern-day Syria through to the border between where Pakistan and India meet in the present day. By 200AD, however, Parthia had been pressured by the Roman empire to its west and the Kushan Empire to its east. Its eastern flank had been pushed almost 700Km west by the expanding Kushans, who now separated it from their ex-neighbours in India.

Thanks to internal struggles and the war with Rome, a revolution occurs a few years later, taking over the Parthian empire and spreading into the Roman and Kushan areas, giving way to the neo-Persian empire, which from which much of our language and mathematics derives, and ultimately formed the birthplace of modern-day Islam.

The Kushan Empire, to the east of Parthia, and which occupied previously Parthian land, occupied a huge area from the north of modern-day Afghanistan, including the Hindu-Kush mountains (just west of the Himalayas) all the way south to the gulf coast, and all of Pakistan. It extended along the northern and southern sides of the Himalayas, into the far western edge of China and much of northern India. It subsumed most of Bactria, which is often how it was referred to by the Romans.

Scholars disagree about much of the Kushan empire. Compared to Rome, less is known of their culture, language, customs, peoples, rulers and so forth. However, some records remain, mostly in the historical archives of the Roman and Chinese states. What is known, however, is that they were great traders and had a number of wealthy trading centres along the highways, including the Silk Road itself. Their religion, for instance appears to be a mishmash of Buddhism, some elements of Hinduism with the remnants of Zoroastrianism, overlaid with some Greek influences. With such a chaotic system, it’s little wonder that the experts have difficulty with Kushan!

Allegedly formed from tribal peoples, one thing is clear, the Kushans formed formidable armies or employed good tactics if they were able to hold off the Roman legions. Records indicate that the Empire was incredibly wealthy thanks to its wide East-West reach, notably along the Silk routes between the Roman empire and the states in the East. They had sophisticated coin minting capabilities, similar to the Greco-roman style. The Kushans, thanks to their access to the coast along the Gulf are thought to have also had seagoing trade with the east, possibly allowing them an alternate route for lucrative trade items which might bypass troublesome overland areas.

However, by 200AD, like the Romans and Parthians, the Kushans were under pressure from surrounding empires. Conflict between the Romans and Parthians was disruptive to trade, and it was only 25 to 30 years before the same Persian (also known as the Sasanian) threat to Parthia also consumed the Kushans.

... continued
Moving east from the Kushan Empire, it was bordered by numerous civilisations and states within India, as well as the impressively large area occupied by the various tribes at its north-eastern border. However, no matter which route you took through the Kushan Empire heading East, one ultimately had to pass either north or south of the Himalayas to progress further.

Passing to the south, one passed through a number of smaller kingdoms and republics. Further south into India was the much larger Satavahana Kingdom which is the first and largest in India.

During this period, there is trade with the Roman empire to the west, and South East Asia to the east, and many towns are setting up along the roadways through the various Kingdoms. Unfortunately, however, as with the major empires to their west, many of the kingdoms and republics within the area now covered by India were involved with skirmishes and even full-scale wars with each other.

Proceeding eastwards to the north of the mountains was thousands of miles longer and led through a wild country of hordes and manchurian raiders, punctuated by steep valleys and fast-flowing rivers.

If the roads to the north was too long, and the road to the south was also too long and dangerous what remained was a more direct, harder, middle route eastward from Samarkand up to the Taklamakan Desert. Directly east of Samarkand are a series of radiating east-west valleys which carry snow meltwater down from the peaks of the Pamir mountains (between the Himalayas to the south and the Tian Shan ranges to the north). Following up these valleys, for example along the Vaksh river between the east/west mountain ranges provides a meandering, but gradually upward route .

The elevation map of the climb from Samarkand (elevation 700m) at the left of the graph to Kashgar (Elevation ~1500m at the right of the graph

The climb is over 700Km long and achieves a height in excess of 3.5Km in places. However, upon reaching Kashgar the traders have connected with the far-western extent (albeit a wild frontier) of the Han Empire. A further 1000+Km trek east and the traders are able to buy and sell in some of the empire's great cities, less than 2500Km from Samarkand.

Taking the north or south route from Samarkand achieves the same destination, but it's over 4500Km before crossing the border in the Han Empire.

Apart from the punishing climb up to Kashgar, if a trader did indeed wish to push east for better prices, they had the final major obstacle: The Sea of Death itself, the Taklamakan Desert!

The desert is roughly oval and sits between two mountain-ranges, the Tian Shan to the north, and the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau to the south. Looking like an eye from above, this is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, and yet it's not without some life. Along the foothills of the mountains to the north and south the rivers which flow down from the mountains allow towns and villages to exist on the very edge of the desert. Kashgar itself on the western edge has relatively temperate climates and enjoys moisture and good rainfall. Just a few hundred kilometers to the east, and even a camel would struggle to survive.

Therefore the road split and either took the north route through Kucha, or the southern route via Yutien. Ultimately both connect back together at Loulan to the east. Loulan would have been a sensible ending point for most travellers along the Silk Road.

Beyond Loulan would have been the Han Empire proper. With few of the locals speaking the tongues of the west and probably preferring to trade using coin rather than bartering, it's likely that western trade beyond Kashgar, and even Loulan would have been rare.

And so, with the full width of the Silk Road laid bare, it's time to dive into its people and cultures in 200 AD.
Once you’ve learned the interface and flow of the game, Silk is an easy game to play. However, if you are a newcomer, especially if you have never played a classical computer role-playing game, here is some advice.

  • This is a game about trading, surviving and exploring the world of the Silk Road in 200AD. Although the natural thing is to be a trader, and immerse yourself in their world, that’s not your only path. You can take a more... active... role in shaping the world if you so wish.
  • This manual contains a lot of very useful information which can help you survive. The political landscape, lifestyles and beliefs of 200AD were very different to today. If you have a good working knowledge of history, you can probably skim the historical background. If not, you might pick up a hint or tip here and there. It's also pretty interesting :)


On PC this game is controlled by Keyboard (and perhaps PC controller input soon). The game is meant to emulate old truly school RPGs, so no mouse input, but don't panic. Once you get into the swing of it, the keyboard input's pretty quick.

The important Keys are WASD or arrows to move around, SPACE to flip between the world view and your town or roster menu, numbers to make choices and ENTER to initiate trading. We’ll discuss towns and other habitations more later. The town and roster menu appears in-game arrayed around you at the eight points of the compass with your caravan’s inventory always aligned to North.

World travel:
W / A / S / D or Arrows
Move and turn around in the world
Enter the Roster and Town menu
Commence trading a commodity
Select an advisor to consult / perform the trade
Open the map

Town / Roster menu:
A / D or Left and Right Arrows
Select different menu panels
Return to facing North (Caravan Inventory)
Exit the Roster and Town menu
Commence trading currently selected commodity
Select an advisor to consult a perform the trade
Long Hold (1,2,3,4)
Accept an advisor’s plan.

Tip: Provisions are always at North East, and Guards (if they are available)
will be at East. If a settlement holds livestock Auctions, these are always at
North West. Remember, you can face North by using Down (or S).

While Trading:
Left and Right Arrows
Increase / Decrease trade offer by 10
Accept a trade
Select an advisor to consult a perform the trade
Long Hold (1,2,3,4)
Accept an advisor’s plan.
Cancel a trade
Up / Down Arrows
Increase / Decrease trade offer by 1

Tip: if you don’t like the deal, use Esc and try a different advisor.

Consult an advisor on the best course of action
Long Hold (1,2,3,4)
Accept an advisor’s plan.

Switch and other controllers
If you are lucky enough to be playing Silk on a Switch or other console device, please refer to the in-game help menu “How To Play” for details on the button and axis assignments for your device.

Menu and Options
When you first start the game you will be presented with the main menu.

From here you can begin a new journey, attempting to conquer the Silk Road in your own way, or attempt to continue your current journey.

By selecting “How to Play”, you can also find a reminder of the keys used to play (if playing on PC), or the button/joystick options if playing on a mobile or console device.

By pressing the right-left keys / buttons you can view other help screens and find out more about the interface and gameplay. Continue to the right or left to exit the help panels.

Finally, if playing on PC, you can quit back to the operating system. The next section will discuss starting the game anew.
The User Interface
It’s important to understand the user interface of the game to understand the choices being made.

Pressing space will bring up the Roster Menu. The caravan roster shows your caravan’s current morale state, composition, provisions and how laden it is.

Rotating yourself with [D] as you would do in first person view to the right brings you to the North East position. Here your trusted advisor can be found.

In the above image my advisor is called Liang Yu. Liang Yu’s primary skill is Trade, because his primary role is as a trader / merchant. Liang Yu is from Chang’an (modern day Xi’an), and from his appearance and dress it’s clear that he’s from the eastern end of the Silk Road, and therefore probably local knowledgeable there. Rotating further around will present your other advisors.

If, however, you enter the roster menu when in a caravanserai you will be presented with the ability to buy food, take on guards and hire advisors. Rotating around will present each of the available advisers.

Pressing the ENTER key (by default) or action button will consider whether to hire a particular adviser. You now have the ability to consult your current advisers (with the number keys 1,2,3,4) on whether this hiring is a good idea.

Liang Yu considers the caravan vulnerable, so is in favour of hiring this person. If you agree, hold down that adviser’s number key to take their action.

If you hire the person they will appear in the next available advisor slot clockwise and you will see a new animal and member of the caravan in the roster.

Within a city you can see the name of the city, its disposition towards you, and using the various menus you can buy and sell goods and livestock.

Upon entering a city, and pressing SPACE to bring up the Roster and Trade menu, you will see a different set of options in the menu. To the North, as always you can find the caravan roster. To the Northwest you can find the Cattle Market where you can offload some of your livestock and beasts of burden.

Press Enter to commence selling, and select an adviser with 1,2,3,4 (or the appropriate controller buttons for your console). Each advisor has their own preference and will select the livestock which they believe they can get the best price for. Choose one of the advisors with a long-hold of their number in order to commence the trade (or abort trading if they feel there are no good money-making opportunities).

Rotating the menus around you will find provisions, livestock and goods to buy. As with the market screen press Enter to commence trading, and select an advisor with their number key 1,2,3,4. They will give their proposed trade (or not), and their confidence. If you agree, long-hold the number key to initiate the trade.
When trading you use the A / D and W / S buttons to select more or less of your own commodity to swap for the desired commodity (be that silver in the market, or, as shown above, food and provisions).

Once you have selected an amount to buy or sell, press the ENTER key and the trade will be performed. Keep a sharp eye at the bottom left, and you will see the various goods being carted away and the new items brought to you. You might also see your reputation rise or fall depending on the quality of the trade.

If you attempt to purchase more produce than your caravan can reasonably carry, the purchased quantity will turn red and you will be unable to complete the purchase, as shown below.

When conducting a trade, choosing a course of action, one selects the advice of a number of different advisors. When doing so, the impact of their advice on the gain and loss of goods is shown on the inventory bar at the bottom of the screen.

For example, the below shows that the advisor is recommending a course of action which will result in the caravan spending some silver bars to purchase some horses. The net effect of this will be to raise the spirits of the caravan (presumably because they’ve been suffering on camelback for the last five hundred miles).

The bottom of the page is used to show effects of actions, rather than inventory.

OK, that’s all you need to know about trading. It’s time for you to take a wander around town and get some last advice from the townsfolk before embarking on your journey.

Starting out
So, my young friend, you’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and set out on the road to adventure, eh? Well, that’s fine, you were probably a burden on your family anyway, ha ha!

Life in a caravan is varied and exciting, but also extremely dangerous. Have you figured out what you’re going to do? You just thought you were going to do a bit of trading? Hmmm, how uninspiring of you, everyone needs a goal to aspire to!

I see you’ve cashed in all your worth and bought a few animals, good. But before you point your slightly bedraggled steed to the sunrise and set out on your grand adventure. You made some pretty grand boasts in the tavern last night. So which of the four Heroic Destinies you bleated about are you going to follow? Your friends, family and the world at large will want to follow your exploits and decide on your success!

Do you want to just be a traveller in the world, visiting the cities, learning their histories, and perhaps earning a little coin? Or do you have loftier ambitions to become the warlord of the empire, or one of its richest trading barons? Hmm? Well, if you just want to be a good trader and see the world, that’s fine too.

So, what’ll it be? You just want to wander about and see the world, or do you want to take it by force? It’s your choice.

Tip: the Traveller is an ideal Destiny for new players. However, if you enjoy a tougher challenge, you could start as the Warlord or Noble.

Next, I see you’ve grown a bit, and I don't just mean your height... So, what have you been up to? Tell me about yourself! Ha ha! Still don't know, eh? Well, before you exit that gate you must decide who you are in the world, or you'll end up second-guessing yourself and die in a sdand dune! So, choose your new heroic personality whose Heroic Destiny you shall forge!

The hero you choose will define your starting skills. The four heros are great archetypes for your destiny. But. if you want a challenge, you can mix ‘n match your destiny to your hero.

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, you are a snot-nosed kid. Ha ha! Don't look at me like that, you know it's true! Ha ha! Choose an Advisor with a little knowledge who will be your initial Companion. You’ve never been on the road further than the census station, you’re going to need someone to stop you stepping on a snake! Ha ha ha! Don't look so hurt! No caravan can travel with just a single person, it takes many skills to be successful! You thought you could do this yourself?

Well, it’s your lucky day, I’ve found four advisors stupid, err, I mean brave enough to accompany you on your adventure, which is to say will help you figure out which smelly end of an ox is which! Choose your new companion wisely and you will not regret it.

Your companions are already quite skilled, but will grow with you and adapt to your choices and play style.

Tip:Don't spend too long weighing the benefits of each companion, you will no doubt make friends and acquaintances along the road, and some of them might be tempted to join you, but don't be too rash either.

What are you standing around with your mouth open for? Are you hoping to catch flies to trade with? Ha ha! Go! Go choose your new life and buy your first stock!

When first starting the game, you’ll get a few little pop-ups like this to guide you how to get started.

Now that you’ve got yourself started, and picked your advisors, it’s time for you to learn your way around managing a caravan. The next section will introduce you to the User Interface.

Advice of the People [part 1]
Well, young one, you’re all set. I see you’ve got your caravan and your advisers all ready to go. I think your goal suits you. I know you and your family don’t see eye to eye, which is why you wish to leave, but there are murmurings among them that perhaps you have more spine than your treacherous brother has been spreading! Hey! Hey! Calm down! I meant no offence by it, please, put the dagger away!

I see you are marginally well versed in the history of the area, but I do wonder if you’re aware of the rigours of being an animal driver across the wastes! Go talk to the workers in the caravans down by the Market Gate. They’ll always stop to chat if you show interest, they don’t get to talk much out on the planes.

Life on the road

Hallo! I see you eyeing up my caravan, and I see you’re collecting the supplies together for your own trek. You want to know what it’s like out there on the road? Well, it’s not easy, I can tell you that much! Life for us occupants of a travelling caravan in this modern age is long, hard, smelly and very dangerous. It takes a particular level of courage to ply the trade routes around the world, especially if you plan to pursue the more lucrative trade routes between the warring empires!

If you’re caught crossing a border while carrying an embargoed good, you can easily be landed with a hefty fine, your caravan confiscated, or worse with a visit to your chosen deity thanks to your head being physically separated from the rest of you. Ha! ha! ha! I’m sure you’ll be fine, young one. Just don’t stop to talk to strange Djinn! Ha! Ha Ha!

So, you’re wondering how we can make money like this? Well, progress in trade has been incredible since the great empires began! That’s more than twenty centuries according to the scribes! First,the Egyptians, now under the Roman bootheels, then the Greeks and recently the Romans. We’ve come to see wheeled vehicles as commonplace, animal husbandry has reached new heights, and the metal smiths are now discovering new and amazing ways to combine the raw rock metals to produce harder, longer-wearing and better quality weapons, tools and fashion items.

Refinement of rocks into smaller, higher-value items is pretty commonplace these days, so caravans of travelling merchants like us are capable of travelling longer distances with fewer resources. Simply put, we don’t have to pull the rocks around with us, just the metal or gems out of the rocks. We make lighter cloth, refined spices, and so forth. All of it packed into easy-to-transport bundles. We've been doing it for a thousand years, so of course we know a thing or two!

I’ve seen that look before, kid, yeah, the road is long, and hard. The empires have been, at various times, building roads for their armies to knock seven kinds of Ox dung out of each other, and then building more roads to trade with each other. So long as we humble traders don’t get in their way, and don’t cross any embargoes, we’re able to make use of these new highways to reach further afield into the imperial fringes. Better than that, with all these new Roman roads, we can return before goods have spoiled or the cost of upkeep for the caravan outweighs the trade benefits!

You’ll see a lot of us caravans coming and going at the same time through these towns here near the warm Mediterranean. These lands of Olives and grapes are gloriously warm and always pleasant. But, see over to the east? Beyond the burning sands there are green lands, filled with strange trees and mountains that touch the sky. Some say the Gods themselves sit atop those mountains watching us as we scurry about. Don’t believe me? Ha! Wait until you get to Kashgar. Look up into the misty mountain peaks and I dare you to swear the Gods are not real!

Up in those areas, the caravans travel less often when the snows come, and then tread carefully when the meltwaters swell the great rivers to overflowing. Be wary if you pass those areas just after it has been bitterly cold, the grassland can slow down, or mire a caravan whole if it strays from the paths marked by the locals!

Until you find your feet in this game, you’ll be cold, homeless, downtrodden and penniless. But despair not, young trader, it takes a lifetime of experience to learn the trade routes. Look at me? Would you guess I was only thirty years in this world? The sun and ice storms on the trails have carved an extra decade into my face. So it will be with you. Follow the trade routes, use your head, and waste nothing.

Soon, you will be as rich as me! Ha! Ha! Ha! For I am the richest man in the Empire, if you didn’t know! All the land is mine to roam, and all its people my friends. Soon it will be yours! Farewell!

Villages, Towns & Cities
Hello you! You’ve not been in my tavern in quite some time. Savin’ yer pennies are ye? Ha! You’re wanting to know more about the towns out there in the empires? Sure, I’ve listened to the traders come through a thousand times. Pull up a stool and I’ll tell you everything I know!

Dwellings are pretty distant but numerous across Asia and Asia Minor. The Silk Road along with other trade routes has surely opened up the ability for people to live in more difficult areas areas, supported by the trade through them. People now have access to more materials and foods than ever before!

As you make your way through the world, you’ll see the evidence of the Empires butting heads over and over! The expansionist activities of our glorious overlords, the Romans, as well as the Parthians and Kushan Empires have left a wake of forts and waystations dotted around the borders as they shift back and forth, wherever a dispute called for a garrisoned presence.

But because armies keep invading and killing the locals in land disputes, the occupants of, say, a roman-built town may not actually be Romans any more. And similarly, Kushan and Roman-built cities are often raided and become Parthian. For example, just now the nearby city of Seleucia and even the Parthian royal capital of Ctesiphon have been taken by the Romans, and although only retreating back a couple of years ago, both cities are still pretty much Roman! And I don’t need to remind you that this is in addition to the Romans flattening Seleucia twice already in the last hundred years! So, don’t judge a book by its cover. When you enter a town, keep you mouth shut and your ears open. I’d recommend you hire a local guide if you get too far away! They should know where the borders are and can help you avoid any fatal mistakes. Many of the nomad tribes have guides who want to join the caravans to see more of the world. Try at tented camps as you travel around.

Smaller villages, especially those far from the trade routes are not extremely profitable destinations, mainly just goat herders and farmers. Small trade caravans take their local produce, such as wool, goats and sheep to larger towns on the main trade routes earning a modest profit. In return, food and silver flow back to the smaller villages allowing them to trade amongst themselves for subsistence items.

Advice of the People [part 2]

Larger towns always play host to a central market, and possibly several other ‘specialist’ markets, focussed on particular animals or foodstuffs. As soon as you enter a town, you should head straight for the central market and consult your advisers on whether there’s a good trade there for your livestock!

Until you gain their trust, many towns aren’t too pleased to see caravans, so get in, do your trade and get out, that’s what I’ve been told. The range of items available in towns is apparently usually much better than in villages, and available in much higher quantities and lower prices to boot! Modest trade opportunities are available for the less adventurous caravans who wish to simply trade local foodstuffs between the major towns, or to and from the city centres around the empire.

The folk who pass through here tell me that it’s trading between the cities where the major money and prestige can be gained. Setting forth on a 7000 mile journey with just a purse full of silver and some camels was a daunting task. The caravan has to ford rivers, cross mountain ranges, fight bands of roaming bandits, protect itself from the weather and packs of wild animals. It also has to remain healthy, well fed, and arrive in good enough condition to enact whatever trade it wished to perform and return in one piece. It takes a lot of strength and skill to travel further, so prices for distant items tends to be far higher than those available locally.

One caravan owner, Crassus, comes through here two to three times a year. He tends to bring through spices and sometimes beautiful cloths from the south. His caravan is sometimes a hundred-strong, and even the head man comes to meet him. If your goal is to be powerful, being a trader is a good way to do it. It takes money to hire warriors, after all, and once a town depends upon you for its food and clothing, you have it by the throat!

Outside of the towns and cities, you can occasionally come across lone workers, often doing land work, tending flocks and so on. Miners are very often far away from their loved ones for years at a time, and will happily trade some of their gold or silver for some companionship, stories and a few bites of something spicy.

In your travels, you can meet lone travellers who will often give you some goods, silver or food if you’ll hang around long enough to hear their crazy stories.

If you are travelling in arid areas, keep a sharp eye for the pointed roofs of tented camps. A tented camp far from a city is often an oasis, and even if you can’t see the water behind the sand dunes, you can be sure that unless it’s peopled by madmen or djinn, you’ll be able to get fresh water supplies and maybe even pick up some new members at an oasis.

Oases are few and far between in the deep deserts. Use them to camp and take on fresh supplies!

That’s pretty much everything I’ve learned. If you don’t mind, I’m going to serve some of the others. But, one final piece of advice; It always paid to ensure you’re buying your stock at good prices, and selling it at better prices! The trader adage is “Don’t take silk to China”, if you know what I mean? Ha ha ha! Best of luck young one!

You're gonna be on the road for days or weeks. Sadly, not every town or inn is conveniently placed along the road, so you're gonna have to camp out.

Finding a good spot to camp is the first order of business when the light starts to dim. It’s a stupid, or inexperienced caravan owner that tries to push on through the dead of night to reach a specific place. As soon as dusk starts to settle, start looking for a good spot.

Camping in the desert or on the blasted plains is going to hurt. No shelter, no food, and no water is a miserable experience, and nobody gets a good night’s sleep.

If you find a lake or river, and a member of your party is adept at catching fish, you can get an easy meal, free water and some relent from the sunshine with the riverside foliage. The animals will thank you too, as they’ll be able to bathe, drink and clean their hooves.

It’s often wise to set a guard, especially if you’re camping in hilly areas. Bandits can appear from nowhere and ransack your caravan before your guards have even awoken. If, however, you’re feeling brave, or you haven’t seen a raiding party for some time, then why not let the ritegiver get out a musical instrument, strike up a big fire, and let the caravan enjoy a happy evening of song and food?

Beware, though, that too many easy lazy nights will use up all your provisions, and a week of feasting and song can be undone by just a few days of famine and worry!

If you see larger hordes of bandits around, be on your guard! The larger bands are not so easily frightened off!

Tip: Camping without a fire and in silence may be good for security, but increases tension. Although your soldier will gain some experience from being on guard, it'll wear everyone's nerves. A rite-giver might be able to lift everyone's spirits with a party or telling tales, if you're feeling comfortable that you won't be attacked

The Anatomy of a Caravan
Ah, come back for more chat? Well, I have a spare minute. Desire for woollens is low here, it seems. Come, pull up a box, and let’s talk more about the caravan.

A trade caravan needs four things to get started:

  1. An Owner
  2. Workers (or Advisors)
  3. A means of transport
  4. Money

The Owner

So, most caravans are run by a single owner or family, in this case, that’s you, my friend. There are a few syndicates and at least one major trading house who have many caravans, but they tend to stick to themselves, or fulfil private contracts for the Empires.

Tip: In Silk, having one or more animal handlers gives you more options when decisions need to be made. Not having one isn’t the end of the world, but limits your options.


If you can’t persuade your family to join you, and I take it that's not an option for you, you're going to have to hire others to work the caravan. Each caravan usually has a few animal specialists whose job is to tend to the animals. You’ll see them usually around the middle or back of the convoy, keeping an eye on the livestock, and pushing along any stragglers. They fix any health issues the animals encounter and often barter for replacements if any of the animals become too sick or die. You can get by on short runs without a specialist, but if you’re needing to camp for more than a few days, it’s wise to have someone along. It’s a load of hassle too, and you’ve got your figures and costs to work with, so let someone else handle the burden.

Towns and villages are great recruitment spots for the caravans. Historically surplus children have been sometimes sold to the caravans, or teenagers with wanderlust sometimes see working their passage on a caravan as a ticket to see the world, fame and fortune. You look the honest sort, so I leave it to you whether you tell them the truth about caravan life, or you let their desire to escape cloud their judgement, and find out the truth later.

Skill Usage
As your caravan makes its way through the wilderness, you'll need to call upon your advisors for help in matters concerning your caravan and trade. Each time you seek their advice is can be a learning experience for them as much as anything else.

It always pays to have a group of well-rounded advisors, so spreading some of the decisions around can give you some good opportunities to build a top team on the road.

Tip: Sometimes an outcome or an option is driven either by the skills of the advisor, or the total knowledge and experience of the group. Sometimes it's a mix of both coupled with your advisors' demographic origin. So once you've maxed out an advisor, why not skill up a deputy or two for them. It might give you some extra leverage in sticky situations!


Each member of a caravan needs transport, obviously. You can walk short distances if you have to, but if you’re wanting to make a profit, you’ll be going for dozens of leagues, which is pretty hard on the sandle-leather, ha ha ha!

Y’see my caravan? I have a few Camels… Camels make good pack animals because they can store water for longer in their humps and their robustness makes them able to walk long distances with resilience during sandstorms.

I have a horse, myself. In the northern and more wooded parts, you’ll come across horses more often as the usual steed for caravan-riders. If you want to know more about the animals, you’ll need to talk to the stable-hand over there. He works the market stables and knows a thing or two about horses and camels.

I make it a habit to only take on new workers who already have their own animal to ride, and I say you do the same, otherwise you’ll have to give up a pack animal, or worse, profit, to take one onboard.

Tip: In Silk, each of your travelling companions will join the caravan with their own steed, so you don't have to worry about displacing cargo, or buying a new horse for them.

Now, don’t forget that every companion is two extra mouths to feed, theirs and their animal’s! And as you take on more workers, you’re going to need a few extra steeds, just in case, which are more mouths to feed! Even If you wisely insist on them bringing their own steed, if that animal is sickly, or is killed, they may be forced to double-up with someone else, or worse still, displace some precious cargo, putting a sizeable hole in your profit margin. It always pays to have an extra horse or camel tied to the back of another, just in case you need a spare!

Experienced caravan owners always know how many transport animals they needed, which is a skill I recommend you learn! It pays to take into consideration the distance and terrain of your route to ensure you don’t overburden your animals.

Pack Animals

As well as the transport animals, there are also pack animals. You can see the difference in my caravan. Look, see? Those horses have saddles, but those have a pack harness? My horses are fairly well trained, and many you pick up will be broken in, so can do both jobs. But usually camels or oxen carry our loads for long distances, providing there is water and food to sustain them. The larger the number of pack animals, the larger the caravan can carry. In general, the larger my caravan gets, the slower I tend to travel, but this depends on the loads of the animals and which animals form part of the caravan itself, and of course the weather. I expect you’ll find the same.

If you find yourself going too slowly, it might be worth adding a few extra beasts of burden to the caravan at your next stop!

If you have too many, you can always sell them again at the next stop. Pack animals themselves can be useful to trade if no longer required. If you’re going to drive a herd of horses across Parthia, you may as well get them to carry something while they’re travelling, right? Double your profits! Ha ha!

But a lot of people forget we can also drive livestock! It’s slow, smelly and not at all glamorous, and it won’t make you a lot of money, but livestock is always in demand at big cities. All those hungry mouths need well-fed meat, or beasts of burden for themselves! You’ll most commonly see for sale oxen, goats, sheep or even horses and camels in the market places. If you don’t have the cash to pick up goods, you can always just buy beasts and drive them to a place where they’re in demand.

The general rule of thumb I go by is: The smaller the livestock animal, the slower it goes. Sheep and goats are very lazy, slow animals. Being low to the ground, they stop and graze at every opportunity! Their small size makes travelling great distances in a single march hard on them, and many will perish unless you treat them well, and take a measured pace through pastoral land.

However, if you find the right route, and have a competent and skilful trader, trading in livestock animals can be lucrative. It’s not to my taste, but you might take to it. Livestock animals also have other uses, but you’re best talking to the priestesses about that.

Money and Cargo
Well you have to give all those pack animals something to carry, right? You can carry around money or stuff. It's your choice which. Stuff weighs more, but if you get the right trade, you can turn stuff into a LOT of money. Finding where is half the fun! (Spending your money's the other half o'course!), ha ha ha!

Money is possibly the most efficient method of carrying wealth with you! It's why they made coins! I've seen one of the Han coins, and it's got a hole in the middle to be threaded on a string! Now that is a nifty idea!

In a single silver bar you can be carrying enough wealth to feed yourself for weeks. The alternative would be to drag around a few of those stinking goats! All of the major empires prize silver and gold to trade with, so if you have supplies of silver to hand, you’ll be well set wherever you travel in the world. So, rather than imperial coins, ask for silver nuggets and bars. They're more portable.

The relative worth of silver varies as does any other commodity, but having some in your pocket is an easy way to get out of any sticky situation. It can be used to buy food, recruit mercenaries and bribe attackers. Everyone wants more money, and will befriend you if you have an abundance of it! Make it your best friend. Love it. Cherish it. Part jealously with it, for it will be the method by which you achieve your destiny, I’d count on it! 

Tip: Sometimes having a lot of money, or a lot of a commodity can open up new possibilities for persuasion. Everyone responds to a good flashing of cash!

Your advisors will fall back to purchasing items with Silver if they don't see any other profitable way of doing it.

Tip: Different traders will hold out for different desired profit margins. If your trader won't trade something you have, the deal is either a bad one, the trader isn't good enough to make a profit on the deal, or the trader is too conservative, and wants to try to sell the goods elsewhere for more money. Adding a second, less risk-averse, trader might be a good idea if you're going to ply the less-lucrative short-distance trade routes
Transport Animals
Hello, sir, welcome to Market Stables, the best place in town to keep your horse, how may I help? Tell you about animals? Well, it’s pretty slow today, the caravans are hitching up to leave town, so I have some spare minutes. Here, sit on this milking stool. OK, what do you want to know?

On Camels

Camels, eh? Well, ha! Ha! We certainly have a lot of them around here, it’s true! In the northern Kushan empire, Bactrian camels are relatively common, and we get a lot of them come this way. Double-humped they can store a lot of water in there, and they’re very popular for domestication thanks to their bulk and lifting powers. Their temper, though, leaves a lot to be desired. In the sandier lands of Persia and northern Africa, Dromedary, the single-humped camels, like big-lipped Claudia over there, are perfect for crossing deserts. They have a smaller side profile to the sandstorms and can be used as a windbreak in a pinch. And although they only have a single hump, they still contain a prodigious amount of water in there! I’ve seen camel trains arrive here after a week with no access to water, and the camels were fine.

Camels are stubborn beasts, and I should know! They have bad breath, a bad temper, and can spit the wings off a fly at twenty paces. So don’t get on their bad side! If you think their smell is unsavoury, you should try the meat! It really isn’t an appetizing meal unless I suppose you’re on the verge of starvation, and only if the meat can be boiled to tenderise it and flavoured with many spices.

On Horses
Yes, we have quite a few stalls here for horses. Many of the traders ride them as a status symbol. If the caravan has a guard contingent or a hunter, they’ll often have horses to chase bandits or catch prey.

Horses have been domesticated for thousands of years. Their speed, intelligence, agility and versatility has been the deciding factor in many trade wars around here, as well as conventional wars. “The trader who makes the money is the trader who gets to market first”, as they say!

Horses are fairly common animals to the north of here, and as you move west towards Rome and Greece. They’re also pretty common over in the Chinese regions far to the east. I’ve heard tell of vast herds roaming free across the steppes! But if anyone ever says “What have the romans ever done for us?” you can tell them “Roads! Oh, and a few other things, like the aquaduct. But mainly the roads!” Thanks to their nicely built roads, horses are more common as pack animals here in the west than the east where broad-footed, low-shouldered oxen are more common.

Tip: In Silk, local customs, preferences and animal availability all play into the price of livestock and beasts of burden. Understanding and mapping these price differences are the hallmark of a good trader!

Once your travels take you out into the wild deserts of Persia and Kushan, horses are greatly prized as animals for the nobility and warriors, thanks to their poise and speed. They are not as commonly used as pack animals, as in the Roman empire, but it’s not unheard of. Pull into a Southern Parthian town with a caravan of pack horses, and you’ll certainly turn heads, ha ha! Down there, horses
command a higher price! The Persians pride themselves on their ability to breed fast, sleek, quick-witted horses that complimented their rider.

The speed and litheness of the horse comes at a price, though. Although much faster on plains, packed sand and roads than camels, they cannot carry as much. Because you’re going to need to carry everything you need to survive with you, a horse can only feasibly carry a single rider, or a single person’s worth of equipment and stock. So it pays to balance speed against carrying capacity!

Beasts of Burden
On Camels...again
As well as transport animals (covered above), camels can be used as beasts of burden.

Although they're slow, camels can carry a LOT of stuff! They can carry a lot more than horses, but not so much as a healthy oxen. Two riders can easily fit onto a camel’s back, and the animals’ sturdy legs and thick ropey muscles allow them to carry their load in long loping strides across almost anything. Here look at Claudia’s feet; wide and able to find purchase on most surfaces, making them fair pack animals in almost all environments.

All this extra carrying ability comes at a price, though. Camels can be quite slow. If they don’t want to move it can take a very experienced handler to whip them into motion. But if you don’t have one, you can usually chivvy them along with a whip. Just stay outside spitting range, ha ha!

Note: In Silk, each time you make a favourable trade in a location, the local populace will take note. Trade high-value highly-desirable items, and people will start to learn your name!
Camels are often seen as the poor-mans pack animal here in the Roman Empire. The nobles and trade lords prefer oxen and horses from Rome, Gaul, Germania and Dacia. To be leading a camel caravan into a roman settlement is tantamount to declaring that you have no breeding or standing in Roman society, and should be treated with contempt. A camel caravan owner has to work quite hard to gain the trust and respect of the locals and the local government. Or you can pick up some oxen and horses and sell them. Being a horse trader is several steps up from a goat herder!

I’ve heard that in the east camels are a bit of a rarity and not well respected either. The Chinese tend to use horses and their own bulky oxen for most chores. Other smaller pack animals like ponies and goats can also be used to ferry goods small quantities of goods, but harnessing a goat is far too much trouble for a caravan, so don’t even try it! The goat’ll just chew through the harness!

On Oxen
The Oxen? Yeah, they’re huge, lumbering beasts. From what I can tell, they’re little different from their wild cousins roaming the wastelands in herds. They’re bulky, heavy and can have a bad temper if crossed. A capable animal owner knows how to manage them and keep them healthy, though. You see, it’s easy for cattle in boggier areas to get infections in their feet, or suffer from many ailments that camels seem to shrug off. So, if you want to drive oxen around, it pays to have someone who knows their way around a cow.

Oxen are really slow. Sure, they can travel long distances at their slow plodding pace, but for us riders who need to stop and rest at night, the long-distance stamina of the ox is better used for carrying your goods. Look at the bones you can see on that one! Oxen are terrifically sturdy, and can carry many times the load of a horse, and more even than a large camel. Oxen can pull carts, drive machinery and their wide necks support a variety of yokes and collars allowing them to carry almost any load between two locations.

Oxen are far more common in more temperate areas than hot, sandy areas. Their slow speed and high water requirements make them unsuited to desert travel. A caravan which needs to take oxen over hot lands must take extra water, slowing them down further. Of course, an experienced animal handler will factor all of this in, and ensure that the oxen are well cared for.
On Oxen...again
We covered oxen before, as pack animals. They're big, they're slow, but as well as carrying or pulling stuff, you can make a fortune selling them to the right people.

On Goats
Goats are annoying, smelly animals. They are mischievous, bad-tempered and constantly getting in the way. They are useful for their milk, if you’re adept at milking them, and their meat isn’t too awful if you have enough spices I suppose. They’re slow too, and can really slow your caravan down!

The best thing you can do with a goat, in my opinion, is sacrifice it to the nearest God to get rid of it! Make sure that God likes goats though! If not, the local priests won’t let you!

On Sheep
Sheep are the distant cousins of goats, but a lot more docile. Herding them is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever had to do, and I will never do that again. You need to really know your animals to get them to do what you want them to.

Sheep make good wool for cloth, and are relatively good eating when young, and so are quite desired in the areas which have good grazing pastures.

They can also be sacrificed in some areas, so are sometimes useful to have around if you’re passing through troubled areas. However they are very slow to drive, dropping a caravan from covering many tens of miles in a day to just a few dozen or more. Driving sheep can be lucrative if you find the right route, and there are caravans out there who do, but it’s not my taste.
Wild Animals
You seemed intrigued when I mentioned wild oxen. Yeah, settlements out to the east are very far apart and there are were few physical barriers other than rivers to prevent them migrating over the hospitable areas. As you travel down the Silk Road, I’m told it’s common to stumble across wild camels, horses, oxen, sheep and goats roaming the wilder areas.

Looking out over the river, you can see some wild horses on the far shore in the distance. Luckily the light-colour of the water shows it is shallow, and easily forded by the caravan. Perhaps an opportunity?

But if you’re getting all starry eyed about chasing after wild animals and selling them, you can think again, my lad! A caravan is a large, lumbering thing. It can easily be forgotten that a caravan can easily number thirty people or more, be driving hundreds of animals and may include carts and wagons! Therefore chasing around the plains after wild animals is seldom worthwhile unless your caravan is small and fast.

Not only would a larger caravan have expended precious time and food in the chase, but they would also have created a huge amount of noise, frightening the wild animals away anyway!

However, if a pack of wild animals happens to cross your path, and you’ve got a hunter or two skilled in the art of cornering and subduing animals, it’s an easy method of supplementing your stock at the expense of a day or so’s hunting. Think carefully though whether it’s worth it. You’ll probably only catch one of them before the rest bolt and scatter!

Saying that, if the caravan is running low on food, chasing down some goats or oxen may be your only way to get a good meal for the next day’s travel. But, I’m not a cook. If you need to know more about food, head over to the cantina and ask for ‘Tiberia’. It’s not her real name, but she’s a good good nonetheless.
Hi m’dear, you look lost. Me? Yes, I’m Tiberia, how can I help?

Cooking? Ha! Well, you grew up here, so you know as well as anyone we tend to just eat cooked grains, bread and some goat or occasionally some ox. But elsewhere you get some pretty fancy stuff. Your caravan’s going to need a lot of food if you’re travelling a long way with a lot of mouths to feed!

Although they often don’t care to admit it, the Romans copied a lot from the Greeks who used to administrate this whole area. Many of the Romans coming through ask for Greek dishes, usually fowl or fish with various pastes. I’ve only cooked for the Roman general once, and that feast took a week to prepare! They really love their spices!

We get a lot of our spices from the trade caravans. We swap it for Roman horses or woollen products from Dacia and beyond. The traders from the far east tell of an empire of people who look very different to us, but who use all kinds of special spices and will eat pretty much anything that moves!

Our milk and meat-based dishes, here in the deserts benefit greatly from the spice trades from both east and west, and even from the south in Africa. I hear that the Parthian kings and dignitaries enjoy a vast array of appetizing dishes!

Good quality spices are worth more than almost anything. We buy them in large urns, sealed from the sands and wind, and we only un-stopper them when we need them. Their bulk and fragility makes them extremely high-value items, and we have to give up quite a few livestock to buy in the spices we need for the cooking.

The spice trade is extremely fickle, however. One has to learn where to locate the finest spices, find a reputable dealer, and then haggle a good price. Otherwise you can easily end up opening an urn full of rotten inedible powder over 1000 miles away from the miscreant who sold it to you!

Anyway, enough about food. Is there anything else I can help ye with? What beliefs do they have about animals? Well, I can’t rightly say. I just buy ‘em and cook ‘em, I don’t worship ‘em. You’ll need to talk to the priestesses over at the temple. Or, if you prefer a more straightforward answer, go talk to Eugene over in the square, I think he’s contemplating something..
Ancient Beliefs
Greetings my young friend. How can Eugene the old scholar help you? Hmm, yes, I do know some things about the various beliefs.

Thanks to my great ancestors, the Greeks, we now know that philosophy is the highest form of study, but despite shedding light on all things from politics to love, there are many which Philosphy can only discourse diagonally, and that is the subject of the divine.

Much of the histories of the Greek and Roman gods are established fact. With Zeus, or Jupiter as the king, and then each of the gods and goddesses arrayed below them. Other empires have different beliefs, however. Take the Parthians for example, they believe in Mithras, similar to those secret cults that emperor Septimus Severus seems to be ignoring. There may even be some Zoroastrian believers still around as well, although they are usually more commonly found further south in the Persian regions.

The Kushans believe in a whole crazy mish-mash of Gods from all over the place. They’ve taken some of our gods, and some of the Persian Gods, and some from places I’ve never heard of. We had some Kushan slaves come through here, captured by the Romans, and although their greek was poor, they told me about at least a dozen different gods.

The spread of the true Gods is inevitable, and it’s a good thing that these sand-dwellers are coming to know more of our ways. It helps with trade and understanding if you know that the same God is going to smite the both of you if you try to double-cross each other, ha ha ha!

This spread of Mithraism, and I’m hearing rumours of a cult that believes in a single God becoming more powerful in Rome, worry me, though.

Further east, my knowledge gets hazy. To the south, I’ve heard tales of people worshipping animals and bizarre deities with unnatural features. A caravan that arrived from the Far East a few years ago told of the empire far to the East having a whole different set of gods again, although the worship is wholly different to what we know.

If you pass through the areas, take note of the local traditions and sacrifices. Some temples show their chosen deific aspect on their external frontage, while others are clear (such as fire shrines)! But, I’m just a humble philosopher. You’ll have to talk to the priestesses if you need to know more about the ways of sacrifices.

Herms dot the landscape. These simple rock shrines denote where local deities hold sway, and are a good place for your caravan to visit, rest for a while and perhaps sacrifice something to the local god to ease your passage.

You’ll need an experienced ritegiver and the appropriate animal to sacrifice, so it pays to learn the boundaries of the various gods! It doesn’t take long, don’t worry.

Other than the main empires, nomadic peoples stretch as far as the horizon, especially in the Kushan areas. They worship their ancestors and a known to offer food at shrines to honour them.
The Meaning of a Sacrifice
Greetings traveller, welcome to our temple. Please remove your shoes, and kneel here. How may I help you? Hmmm, I’m afraid I can’t help you with that, the rites and sacrificial ceremonies are sacred to us. I cannot tell you how to honour the gods, nor would I. If you wish to do so, you will require a ritegiver. Ritegivers are itinerant spiritual folk who are content to travel the world, offering their services and spreading the word of their gods.

Almost all gods are honoured by sacrifices, independent of your particular belief system. It just seems to be the way of things. The loss of life of a person or animal, when offered in the appropriate way to the appropriate God will always appease that God. For reasons known only to the holders of that deity’s mysteries, each considers a particular animal, spice or item to be a worthy gift. In short, different gods demand different sacrifices for different requests you may make of them.

As you travel the highways, you will come across many sacrificial altars and temples, and each are usually quite clearly dedicated to a particular deity, however it takes the practiced knowledge of a Ritegiver to fully understand the nuance of each local deity and their preferences.

Sacrifice a sacred animal, and you might be accused of polluting and defiling a sacred temple. At best you’d be banished from the site. At worst, the next sacrifice will be you!

The roads to the east are many months of travel long and very few people that I have met have travelled as far east as you can go, let alone know the local customs along them. It is not uncommon for a ritegiver to know the local and neighbouring customs, but they might have to learn or worse guess what the appropriate custom is farther afield. Ultimately, nothing beats local knowledge!

Tip: Having an advisor from the same area or belief style as a location where a decision or action being taken can give you a different perspective than someone from a foreign land, and can be just as valuable as being fully skilled!

If you find your caravan suffering adverse weather conditions, a plague or you cannot find a good source of food, the chances are you have angered a god by perhaps passing through their area without paying respects (if you believe in such things, and your advisors certainly will!) If your bad luck continues, your caravan workers will become restless and you may be forced to pick your best goat, bull or horse and sacrifice it!

So, it pays to keep everyone happy by buying a little favour with the gods along your path. A good ritegiver will know the ceremonies to engage the whole party in sharing the benefits of the rite. When spirits are low, a sacrifice can be a celebration with the whole caravan sharing in the sacrificial food, wines, spirits, herbs and prepared roots. Indeed, performed by a skilful ritegiver, a sacrifice can be the difference between a community under stress at each others’ throats, or contented and living together in harmony.

A harmonious group will work together, play together and defend each other when danger looms. A downtrodden group will make mistakes, perform poorly and may not have the heart to defend themselves if they think it’s divine right that they be captured or punished!

Thank you for stopping by, I hope I have been of help. Although I’m sure you will be fine, you are young, and it might be of benefit to engage the services of some guards. Go see the guard captain at the mercenary camp at the caravanserai just outside town. You’ll need his services I’ll wager. Come back soon!
WHAT DO YOU WANT SNOT-NOSE? Snooping around my camp, are you? Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t gut you like a fish? HA! You want to hire ME? With what money? Show me! Yes, that appears to be silver. Fair enough, my apologies, I didn’t realise you were with one of the caravans, I thought you were one of the thief boys from the town again. So, please, sit, tell me how I can assist.

Well, we do a lot of work for the caravans. I, like many of my brothers recruit able bodies from the towns and farms. We bring them here, to our encampment just outside town, and we place guards with the local caravans. You’ll almost always find muscle-bound idiots like me at the caravanserais just outside town. Because most of the caravans will stop here, only taking their wares into the town itself, it’s a good place to meet, chat and get hired. You’ll often find experienced hands at the caravanserais too, moving from caravan to caravan.

You don’t want to end up a broken caravan, your bones bleaching in the sunshine and your goods easy pickings for others who come by now do you? It’s common to come across the remains of those unwise enough to venture into the Parthian lands without protection.

Right now, the Romans and Parthians are still finding out just how far they can bury their swords in each others’ eye sockets, which is heating things up all over the area. But the Parthians aren’t doing so well themselves. I’ve heard of skirmish parties raiding their cities and there have been at least two sieges in the last few years. The Kushan are a rabble, if you ask me. They’re always raiding and pillaging, and they’re almost always struggling against each other. How their kings maintain order is beyond me. Beyond Kushana, I’ve no idea. Some of the men I’ve sent out there tell of weird painted goblins, giant beasts with five legs and huge ears, and other crazy stories. I think the sun got to ‘em. None of their stories ever made sense.

But, no matter where in the world they went, every one of those caravans got attacked at some point. Be it by wild dogs, pigs, wolves or bandits, they all had to defend themselves. Most attackers are cowardly, they assume the caravan is undefended, and run at the first sight of steel. Others are more bold, especially if they’re working under orders to confiscate materials for some army or other.

Roaming bandits are a real threat to a poorly defended caravan. It helps to have a good hunter to drive them off, a large contingent of guards, or some money to get rid of them. Either way, constantly being attacked is going to make everyone miserable.

Remember: Nobody has the right to take your goods or animals (except the Romans, our "masters", I suppose), but as the Judean Peoples' Front used to say, “Romanes eunt domus!”. If you reckon you can take ‘em out, do it, send 'em packing. If they turn out to be tougher than you thought, you might be able to appease 'em with a little silver.

A dozen or so guards is usually enough to stop most roaming bandits, and pretty much any animals which attack. With your own animal handlers and hunters lending a hand, that’s quite an able force. More guards than that will certainly be flashy when you enter town. People will be assuming you’re carrying a lot of high-value goods, and it might attract more attention than you bargained for!

If you’re considering heading east of Parthia, I’d recommend a dozen guards or more, but it’s your coin, my lord! If so, go talk to Jeremiah, the cartographer. He has a few scrolls of the cities to the east. Plan your route with him, and then come see us on your way out of town if you need some guards, we’re always happy to see a caravan.

Beware the heat of the deep sands. Not only will they drain your water and food trying to cross them, but their height can easily hide packs of hungry animals or bandits looking to prey on a weakened caravan.

The remains of a caravan attached by wild animals. You can sometimes find a few provisions, silver or goods that haven’t already been ransacked by other caravans. Spare a thought for their souls before moving on.

If the path you have chosen has pitted you at odds with one or more of the Empires, then you're going to have to get ready for a fight.

You're usually on good terms with your own Empire, but it always helps to check the status board

Tip: You can access the status board by pausing the game.

In the grid you'll see some statistics of the towns which view you as a friend, enemy or overlord. Most towns will not care a fig for you to begin with, so if you want to be on good terms you're going to have to work hard!

If a town is hostile to you, they will send out guards or an army to scare you away! If you hire some guards, they'll probably be around the same skills as any army you come across, so it pays to size up the enemy before going into battle. Some Han philosopher called Sun Tsu once talked about making sure you only fight the battles you can win. Well, that's all well and good, but you never know if you're going to win or not. There's a certain element of luck, mixed in with how many swords you have on your side, and a splash of how up for the battle your guys are. If they're travel weary and hungry, they're not going to do too well!

Also, when you spot an incoming army, take a note of whether they're on horseback too! Mounted cavalry are fierce, especially the nomads! The roman footsoldiers use iron gladius swords and can easily cut you to ribbons too!

If you do defeat the army or guards, then you can take your fight to their town. If you try to enter a hostile town, they'll try to defend. If the gods are on your side, and you defeat the guards, you can take over and run the town however you like!

If you've got enough horses for your guards to mount up, they'll make good cavalry themselves (provided they're sober enough to get up on the horse!). Y'see the people who put themselves up for guard duty on caravans can be pretty weak. Some will run when they're losing, some will play dead, others will feign injury. It can be easy to go up against 3 soldiers with a force of 60 and find 10 of your guys have gone AWOL. So, if you're going to start taking over empires, you're going to need to have a LOT of spare cash, and hire an army of your own.

Don't expect the empire that owns the town to be pleased about it, though! hahaha.

By and large the specifics of battle will be handled by your hero and your soldier. You just tell them what outcome you want (usually severed heads), and they'll go do it for you. It things go bad, they might counsel you to take a different route. It really pays to listen to them, they're the experts out there!

Well, kid, long story short: Only pick on people smaller than you, unless you have a lot of cash to buy them off when you lose, ha ha ha ha!

The Silk Road...
Welcome, traveller, my name is Jeremiah and as you can see I am the map-maker of our fair city. I hear you are wishing to set out on the Silk Road to earn your fame and fortune? If you can cross my palm with silver, I can tell you a few things about the road ahead of you. Good, then let us begin…

The road travels largely east-to-west (or west-to-east, depending on your viewpoint). "All roads lead away from Rome", as they say. The fact that some people travel along them the wrong way is purely their own problem.

Now the road passes through three major empires, a couple of neutral states, some kingdoms and free lands overrun by the nomads. It links up a series of twenty or more cities, dozens of towns and hundreds of villages. Of course not all of them are on the road itself, most are on branches and side roads.

The road itself isn't really a road in most places, it can be a track between herms (spiritual rock piles), or it can be a pole in the sand. Finding your way takes experience and a little luck. But, if you don't learn about the empires and the cities, you won't make a penny on the road!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know of all the empires, from west-to-east,
  • The Romans,
  • The Parthians,
  • The Kushan,
  • The smaller kingdoms and city-states like the Tibetans and the Indians, and then;
  • The Han Empire far to the east.
I can see from your glazed expression that you are a novice to this. There are seventeen key cities which are important trading waystations on the road. Since we are here in Antioch on the western end of the road, let us begin here and work our way east.

Bear in mind, however, there are hundreds of villages and settlements between here and Loulan. If you travel far to the north and south you may encounter cities that even I have never heard of! If you do, please return to tell me!

Near some big cities you’ll find a Caravanserai outside them. These vary in size and type. Some are just patches of ground set aside for you and your animals to encamp away from the road, while others have beautiful walled colonnades, trading areas, wells, tents or even enclosed areas such as livestock pens, stables and a canteen. If you need to meet up with other caravans and pick up hired hands or guards, the caravanserai is the place to do it. Towns are where you go to sell your stuff.
Cities of the Roman Empire
Our fair city has been here for, some say, a thousand years, although the truth is that it was truly founded only six hundred years ago by the army of the legendary Alexander the Great, blessings be upon him, in his conquests. We owe much of our history to those ancient Macedonians. Antioch became the capital of this area and rivalled even the great Alexandria over 1200 Roman Miles away to the south-west, but it is truly the Romans who have come to dominate us in recent ages. The great Julius Caesar came here about two hundred and fifty years ago and declared us free, and we’ve been prospering ever since. Some consider us almost as cosmopolitan as Rome, not that everyone likes that comparison, mind you.

Antioch sits near the coast in the region the Romans refer to as “Little Asia”, or Asia Minor. As such, it has great trade links to the rest of the empire, thanks to the fair seas of the Meditteranean.

In general, if you’re looking for goods common in the Roman Empire, you’re probably not going to find them at much better prices without making the long trek to Italy or Gaul. There’s even trade up from Egypt and the northern coast of Africa. You can easily find a lot of camels, wool and even spices. However, the food markets of Antioch are practically overflowing! Fish, fruits, meats, vegetables, cooking spices! Everything a caravan needs to fill its belly. That’s why many start out here!

Wow, what a city! Damascus is an amazing place to visit. Some say the city was founded even before the mythical Pyramids in Egypt were laid down at the beginning of the world, although how a city was formed before the world was formed is puzzling to me… Damascus has changed hands more times than I can count. The songs and stories I know go back to when the city was conquered by Alexander the Great, at much the same time as our fair city of Antioch some five hundred years ago. The trade and influence it has had for at least a thousand years cannot be understated. Damascus has reigned supreme as the trade centre of the whole area.

If you’re planning a trek, there are better places to start out than Damascus, as it’s a trek across the northern desert, or a detour north through Antioch and Nisibis. Damascus isn’t quite as accessible to the empire thanks to its southerly location, so you’ll find a lot of Silver and camels, but fewer spices and almost no woollens or horses there.

Almost all trade heading east must pass through the trade centre of Nisibis. It sits at a ford point on the Mygdonius river, and is pretty much the only safe place to cross it. Further south are the burning deserts, and further north are treacherous mountains.

Poor Nisibis has been changing hands between the Romans and the Parthians for many years. It was taken by the Romans originally during their main push east many years ago, and they did a lot to fortify and protect the city. They even renamed it “Colonia”. But the Parthians didn’t like that, and pushed the Romans out, much to the annoyance of the very pro-Roman peoples there! Luckily, the Romans just beat back the Parthians a few years ago, but the whole area is hotly contested. The Parthians want the city as a gateway to Armenia and the west, while the Romans want to hold it as a gateway to the east.

Nisibis is a very prosperous town, and you’ll have no problem getting your hands on Silver and Spices here. There’s even some Silk and Wool to be had, although the prices aren’t great.

Tread lightly in and around Nisibis, it’s not safe anywhere in the region!
Cities of Parthia
Ah, Hatra. Such beautiful architecture! Such amazing Walls! Unlike the Romans with all their squares and rectangles, the Arabans build circular! No corners to attack, you see? Genuis! Hatra is very well fortified, and far to the south-east of Nisibis. It’s almost entirely enclosed in its impressive circular walls, but still encompasses over 300 hectares!

It’s near the Wadi Al-tharthar, which floods in the rainy season. Otherwise, the city is landlocked and is visible from many miles around.

Having spoken to a few guards that were in the area last year, the Romans tried to push east from Nisibis to take Hatra. They’ve tried before and always failed. I’m told that once again they overstretched themselves and failed to capture Hatra, and have retreated back to Nisibis to lick their sunburn, ha ha ha!

Hatra’s managed to stay largely independent from the Parthians as well, and just enjoys trading with both empires, and without needing to pay too much in taxes to either. But with both empires setting their sights on it, I don’t hold out much hope for it staying independent for long!

Because it doesn’t have a lot going for it, resources-wise, Hatra is mainly an independent outpost. Prices tend to be high and the markets fairly bare compared to the bigger Nisibis to the west. But some good demand here for caravans heading through.

Much of what I know about Ctesiphon comes from that caravan of slaves that came through here last year. It is located far to the south-east, towards the sea. The city has always been precious to the Parthians. Their kings enjoy spending the Winter there, journeying south from Ecbatana due to the warm weather. The Romans have always prized Ctesiphon, and have tried (and succeeded!) in attacking it so many times, the locals have lost count. They have an active fire worship thing going on and a really nice produce market.

It’s been a few years since they last managed it, but only a few years ago, the emperor himself led the army into Ctesiphon and sacked it. His predecessors just tried to hold it, or make peace with the inhabitants, but from what I’ve been told, Severus has decided to take hostage some of its peoples, and so they’ve been flowing back through here and the other ports to Rome as slaves. Quite what the emperor plans next for Ctesiphon is unknown, since it is far to the east, and the emperor cannot feasibly hope to hold it with the Parthian armies in proximity. We shall see!

Given its recent upheavals, it’s amazing that Ctespihon has remained a functioning mint for the Parthians for so long. It’s using a lot of money on repairs, so money isn’t as plentiful as the cities to the northwest, but you can easily find silver and food. You can even come across Spices and Silk from the east, and in respectable quantities. Prices are fair for these, but it does pay to go further east.


Estakhr is a formidable stronghold in the Parthian empire. Even its name means “Stronghold”! It’s been attacked more times than I can remember, and I don’t think it’s been sacked yet, but I might be wrong. It sits on the slopes at the feet of steep clifs and mountains, making it very hard to attack from one side. It’s also located deep in the Parthian empire far to the south-east in lush, fertile arable lands protected on all sides by mountains. It can be pretty hard to find if you don’t know the way there.

The views within the valleys are breathtaking, and the pass roads down into Estakhr afford some of the best scenery in the region.

Estakhr is reasonably wealthy. It is surrounded by fields and orchards and the trade caravans bring in lots of food and silver. The markets often stock small quantities of spices and horses from caravans arriving from the east, but don’t think about picking other stuff up there, it can get expensive.

Far in the north of the Parthian Empire, almost due east from us here at Antioch is the Parthian capital of Ecbatana. We know a little of Ecbatana thanks to the tall tales sung of about the great Alexander’s conquests of the region. Some say that the wealth of the city is so great it can send a man mad with greed. It is the trading and administrative centre of the Parthian Empire. They make many of their beautiful coins there, and its where their nobility resides when not touring the empire, out on campaign or overwintering in the south.
The exact site for Ecbatana has seen some controversy due to the slightly unusual way that it was almost never mentioned! Most now believe it to be under the city of Hamadan in northern Iran. Excavations of the main area of the town are continuing to this day.

Ecbatana sits on the main Silk road to Samarkand and, although I’ve never been there, must surely be a wondrous place to visit! To get to Samarkand from Ecbatana one must head towards Saddarvazeh and Merv to the east.

Thanks to its location, Ecbatana is a replete with Silver and spices, you may even find some wool and oxen from the north and west. However the wondrous plains to its south-west make excellent hunting for wild horses. The horse markets of Ecbatana are truly a sight to behold!

Now, for the cities to the east, my colleague Amira will help you.

The ancient city of Saddarvazeh, or Hecatompylos as the Greeks know it is another major Parthian settlement even further east of Ecbatana, up in the hilly regions to the north. Tales tell that this was another conquest of Alexander the Great, but I’m not so sure. The caravans who come through say that Saddarvazeh is at the crossroads of many highways leading northeast, northwest, east, west and south. They call it “Hundred gates” because of all the roads which lead into it.

Saddarvazeh is, like Hatra, in a pretty dry area, at the foot of the mountains. The land is pretty impassable to the north, and is just rubble-strewn desolation to the south. One must really stick to the road or risk injuring the animals.

Its location on the Silk Road to the east is of prime importance to the Parthian Kings who, I am told, often move their official residences to Saddarvazeh after spending the summer in Ecbatana, the capital to its west. How the city remains is quite a mystery, as there is little water for much of the year, and when the rains fall, the wadis are swelled to overflowing, pulling away sand, trees and anyone foolish enough to be caught in the deluge.

The city itself is largely of mud and brick, with a little stone. There are many ritual mounds around the city, and it is a fascinating place to visit. Beware, though, the mountain passes and high grasslands are home to many packs of roaming wolves!

The trade through Saddarvazeh keeps the city alive. It is incredibly wealthy and it’s very easy to pick up lots of food, silver and horses here. To a lesser degree you can find Spices and Wool here, but many caravans pass through to the richer trading cities beyond to sell their wares.

Saddarvazeh isn’t too far from a city known as Merv to its east, and over the border in the Kushan Empire
Cities of Kushan
Merv is an oasis in the desolate Karakum Desert east of Saddarvazeh. It’s both a trading centre and a centre of religious learning, with roads leading north into the steppes and beyond, and south into the main body of the Kushan Empire. It’s the capital of its region, Margiana, and is relatively wealthy.

Passing through Merv, you can expect to see a lot of nomad raiders and packs of wolves, but also be on the lookout for failed caravans! It’s easy to overestimate your water supplies in these arid regions, and if you miss the oasis in a sandstorm, you can be dead of the heat and thirst in days!

There are some of Roman descent living as far east as Merv, and even some from the far east. The city is a welcome stop on the caravan routes, and boasts many entertainments and delicacies. With the arid regions around it, you would do best to ensure you stop in Merv on your way through. Bypassing too far to the south or north could land you in the deep desert!

If you continue east from Merv, you reach the wondrous city of Samarkand!

Merv is usually a relatively good place to pick up food, and thanks to its location you can even get camels and some livestock such as oxen and goats. With its trade routes north, Merv can also be a location to obtain wool and silver!

Ah, once again, our tale crosses the path of the great Alexander who brought culture and civilisation to the ancient city of Samarkand, naming it instead Marakanda. The oral history of the Kushans of the region say the city was formed when the world was formed, and may have been one of the first places the gods laid out for us to live.

Samarkand is now in Uzbekistan, and is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in asia, with archaeology going back to the Palaeolithic era.
If you decide to take the road through Samarkand you will find many wondrous things from all parts of the world, but be sure to stock up on supplies, for if you head east you are climbing through the mountains, and then down into Kashgar on the eastern side. It is a long, hard climb, and the desert region beyond is unforgiving. However, it is one of the more direct routes, and therefore often taken by traders of goods which require speedy transport.

The city is host to several renowned trading families who hail from the Sogdiana region where Samarkand is located. These trading families are familiar with the mountains and passes to the east and trade extensively with the Han. They bring much from the east to sell in the markets of Samarkand, Chach and Balkh. Few caravans travel the full with of the road, instead stopping in Samarkand and returning home. Samarkand marks almost exactly the midpoint of the Silk Road between Rome and the Han Empire.

The region is dangerous, the Kushans do not patrol the mountain passes as well as they should, so from here on, it is wise to bring a contingent of guards! Many caravans speak of a southerly route which passes along the south-side of the Indus, and then have a shorter climb to Kashgar, bypassing Samarkand, and possibly saving some days travel. I wish you luck if you decide to search for this route.

If you proceed to the north, you will find the city of Chach, and to the south you will encounter Balkh.

Chach later became Chachkand and then later Tashkent, and is now a major city in Uzbekistan.
Chach is another heavily fortified trading city along the northern path of the Silk Road. It sits in very fertile lands in a wide valley, and overlooks a great lake!

Many pass through Chach if they are attempting to pass north of the great mountains and reach the cities of Kucha and Terfan without braving the Sea of Death beyond Kashgar.

However, the passes to the north are equally treacherous. Hordes of nomadic bandits, roaming packs of beasts and many thousands of miles of rubble-strewn plains await the caravan. Pathfinders tell of many secret passes through these northern mountains, but few have braved them.w

Because of its location a little to the north of the traditional routes, Chach isn’t as prosperous as some of its southern neighbours. You can pick up foods and a few spices, horses and Oxen, but the prices won’t be great.

So, if you decide to head northwards through Chach, be prepared before you set off any further!

The beautiful city of Balkh is a wonder to behold. The Arabs consider it to be “the mother of all cities”, and it is ancient! It’s in the area known as Bactria, famous for its wondrous two-humped camels, and some consider it to be the gateway through the mountains to the southeast and into India! It’s one of their mints too, so if you feel like attacking it, be sure to bring extra armour, ha ha!

It is marvellous, serene, but vibrant and bustling. How can it be all these things? One thing only, the Silk Road! The road passes through Balkh, bringing all the wealth from east and west, while all the tributary roads bring wonders north from the Indian Kingdoms to its south. Many caravans complete their journeys in Balkh, and fill its markets with wonders from around the world. The city adds its own bounty to the markets, thanks to its fertile and moist soils. Balkh fruits and vegetables are renowned through the whole area for their succulence and perfection.

Balkh has many camel markets, and even sees a moderate trade in Silk and Spices coming through. Food is very plentiful and quite cheap.

If your appetite for travel does not draw you through the arid high deserts beyond Samarkand and Kashgar, you would do worse than to stay awhile in Balkh!
Cities of the Nomads
Kashgar is the first city you will meet with Han actively in residence. Many Han traders will come down the mountains into Samarkand, and some even as far as Merv or Saddarvazeh, but Kashgar is the first city where you’ll find them and their families living.

The city has been switching hands between the Han and Kushan, I belive, but I’m told it’s currently nominally under Han rule, but that far west it’s hard to see how the Han can protect it. The people of Kashgar have inherited their stubbornness and will to survive from their Yuezhi forebears. The Han eye Kashgar hungrily, as it’s a useful oasis on the western edge of the desert, and it has many routes down into the main body of the Kushan empire, but it’s too far west, so they’re content to let the nomads and Kushans vie for it.

Kashgar is quite a temperate city, high in the mountains, protected from much of the weather. It can get hot in the summer, but nowhere near as hot as the southern deserts! It sits at the far western edge of the great desert known by the locals as The Sea Of Death.

Kashgar’s relative warmth and humidity make it a great place to pick up dried fruits, nuts and seeds grown in the fertile soil. If you’re going to make the run through the high deserts to the Han capital, you’ll definitely need to stock up with the food at Kashgar, because there’s little else except a few small villages between there and the Han heartlands!

Thanks to its singular position, Kashgar also has quite a bit of wealth, and can be a great place to pick up Silk from the Han traders too fearful to enter Kushan territory. Since it sits on the edge of both desert and temperate roads, Kashgar as thriving horse and camel markets too!

If you try to take a southerly route to avoid the Sea of Death, you’ll pass over a few rivers and find yourself in a large fertile plain. Within it you’ll come across Khotan, or Hvatana in their language. The Han call it Yutian, and it’s the main city in that area. It’s still pretty far west for the Han, and is bordered by the great mountains to the south, and the wide desert to the north.

Yutian is a prosperous, fertile city with irrigation thanks to clear, clean water from the mountains. The prosperity of the city, and its location as an oasis on the trading route make it a valuable location for the Han. The Kushan and the Han have an uneasy truce in the region, and things seem to be relatively quiet, for now, although raiders have been known.

Yutian serves a good resting place along the Silk Road, but you’ll find food to be a little more expensive than the larger cities. However the Silk and Spices markets there are particularly good with cloth of excellent quality readily available. The citizens there prefer camels due to their proximity to the desert, so you can usually pick up a few if you need them.

Be warned, though, that the road from Kashgar, south along the mountain wall on the southern border of the desert is almost 350 roman miles, with few villages or oases on the way!

The citadel at Kucha is large by anyone’s standards. It’s on the northern branch of the trade road which brings Silk from the east into Kashgar, and sits on the northern edge of the Sea of Death, at the feet of the great mountain range which borders the northern edge of the desert.
Monks from the Han have been known to come from Kucha as far as Samarkand and Balkh, and have set up their monasteries in the region. Their strange religion is popular in the Han Empire, but we know little of it here.

Kucha is an oasis in the desert, and like its cousin almost directly to its south across the arid desert, Yutian, is kept moist and fertile thanks to the water running from the mountains to its north.

If you reach as far as Kucha, you are certainly in the Han Empire, although you will regularly run into families and traders from Samarkand and the Sogdian region. As well as the Sogdian traders taking Silk and spices west, you will almost certainly find Silk traders from the east looking to offload their bolts rather than skirt the desert and attempt the treacherous descent into Samarkand. Beat the Sogdians to market and if you have a good haggler, you can pick up some good stuff without needing to push even further east to Turfan or Loulan.

Kucha is a waystation along the Silk Road, and many traders who deal with the Kushana caravans will meet up in the marketplace in Kucha. Silver is abundant here, with the free trade both east and west through the city. Its proximity to Loulan means you can even pick up horses as well as camels here, although they can be a little pricey.

The road to the north of the desert from Kashgar is almost 500 roman miles and snakes back and forth as it crosses river after river! There are some more settlements along the northern border of the high desert, but it’s still a very long way! Think carefully before taking the northern road!

Turfan is further east again from Kucha than Kucha was from Kashgar, almost five hundred Roman miles! The Han call it the Gushi Kingdom, and it’s been a prosperous trading town on the northern branch of the Silk Road between Loulan and Kashgar.

The city itself is close to fertile plains, and sits in a mountainous region of the Han Empire, although according to my sources isn’t directly ruled by them, and is largely controlled by nomadic tribes like much of the land to the west towards Kashgar). The city is too far west for most of the Han armies to reach it, so its defence is largely left to the nomads themselves.

Turfan has many plantations of fruits and vegetables, and has a bustling market with many trade wares from the empire including Silks and Spices. Horses are also traded quite commonly here, as the nomads use them for travel.
Cities of the Han
Loulan is an interesting city on the shores of a large lake filled with beautiful reeds. The city always seems at threat of being overrun by the desert to its west, but close to the shores of a massive lake to the east. It is windswept and at odds hot and cold, and yet quite pleasant for most of the year. The climate does not seem to suit the Han well at all, and they tend to leave it to the Nomads to manage for the most part. The peoples who live there do not seem to be the same Han as from the far Imperial east.

Loulan seems to be more of an independent city. They pay lip service to the Han empire, but are separate, owing to their nomadic origins. It’s unusual to find anyone from the west in Loulan. You can occasionally find Sogdian traders, or occasionally a Kushan trading caravan, but these are very few and far between. Han merchants bring fruits, leathers, metalwork, gems, silks, spices and all manner of other items up to Loulan, from where they begin their long trek along either the northern Silk road through Turfan and Kucha, or the southern arm through Yutien.

Loulan, however, is a nexus point on the Silk Road. Many of the trade routes throughout the Han Empire converge on Loulan as they attempt to skirt the edges of the high desert to Kashgar. The markets of Loulan are legendary. Nowhere else, except in the main provinces of the Han Empire will you find a finer selection of silks. They also trade heavily in spices and wondrous foodstuffs.

Only a fool would attempt to take the direct route west across the desert known as the Sea of Death. Its name is not given lightly. Even camels cannot cross will surely perish, and I’ve heard that there is nary a drop of water anywhere east of Yutien all the way to Loulan, except close to the mountains. Local loremen have said that the literal translations of its name is “You go in, but you don’t come out”. Always stick to the roads, and never attempt to take a short cut through the desert!
Other towns and cities
There are hundreds of other villages, towns, cities, shrines, temples and tax collection points. By and large, villages tend to only stock smaller amounts of foods, while towns and cities stock more.

If you’re doing trading, it pays to keep notes of what works where. Keep a travel diary, and note the best places to buy and sell commodities. Sometimes you can hit on a really lucrative trade route between two unlikely cities!

Beyond Loulan lie the Han plains and hills. What lies there is a mystery to me, except that there must be a giant and very possessive empire to be able to hold sway over the lands as far west as Kashgar. Given the amounts of silks and spikes flowing through the cities and ending up in Rome, it’s clear that there is a fortune to be made, if you’re willing to make the trek to the eastern edge of the world!

The route you take through the world is completely up to you. Your advisors will keep your map updated,
But it’s always good to keep notes too!

Good Luck, you're going to need it! 
Hints and Tips : Gameplay
If you wish to shortcut some of the learning experience, this section is for you. Silk is intended as an homage to classical RPG gaming, which would usually reward the player for finding information out themselves by opening new possibilities in the players’ own mind. Therefore, the information below is intended to be useful in the general sense.

  • Advisors are for life! You can hire up to seven Advisors (including the two you start with) but you can’t fire them. Choose wisely!
  • Classes: the highest skill upon hiring shows an Advisor’s class – Drover (Animals), Soldier (Battle), Ritegiver (Rituals), Merchant (Trade), and
    Guide (Wayfare). Some actions are only available to Advisors of a given
    class, but many just require a high enough skill.
  • Seven Advisors: your Caravan can have seven Advisors. There are definite benefits to extra Merchants, Soldiers, and Ritegivers...
  • Directions: Engage the Roster with Space to see which direction you are facing. There were no magnetic compasses in 200AD, and the
    north star was used for orientation.
  • Spirit: the Caravan’s Spirit affects all skill checks. Rituals can help keep Spirit high, but you may need a Ritegiver... Don’t let Spirit fall too low!
  • Why Can't I Buy That…? It's not enough to want something, your Advisors have to have a good reason to want to trade for it.
  • Camels and Horses are valuable: You get one mount for each Advisor you hire, but you can buy more. Horses are faster (if you have no other animals) but Camels carry much more and can take two riders each.
  • Hunting and Fishing: Hiring a Guide gives you many more options for foraging in the wilderness, provided you camp near woods or water. Don't run out of food!
  • Oxen are the heavy transporters: if you need to carry a lot of goods or Provisions, try Oxen – but they're incredibly slow…
  • Sheep and Goats: Although you travel slower with Sheep and Goats in the caravan (roughly the same as with Oxen), you can milk them to feed the caravan any night you end up in grassland.
  • Capturing wild animals is difficult! Wayfare can help provide tactics,but it's skill with Animals you need to make the catch.
  • Rituals are the social fabric of 200AD: If you want to make allies – and make better trading deals – you'll want to participate in the rites of local Temples so hire a Ritegiver as soon as you can.
  • Silver and Wool travel east, Spices and Silk travel west: Spices are cheapest in the Kushan Empire, Silk in the Han Empire, while Silver and Wool are cheapest in the Roman Empire.
  • Combatants: Each Guard counts as one combatant, two if they are on a Horse. Advisors with Battle skills count as at least one combatant too (and much more if their Battle skill is high enough!).
  • How many Bandits...? For each figure in an attacking Bandit group, there will be roughly five Bandits. Parlay if they outnumber you!
  • How many Troops...? A single troop figure means fewer than 100 troops, but if there are multiple figures each one is at least 100 troops (200 for a commander, who will appear in front of the other figures). Remember – 100 Cavalry is as strong as 200 Infantry!

Note: Information above reproduced from the Silk quick guide.

Hints and Tips: Advisors and Sacrifices
Advisor Skills
Your advisers come with a wide skillset. Having a capable range of skills in the caravan is the key to success. However, having more than one person with the same skillset can also come in handy when you want a different opinion on a topic, or would like options when trading or fighting for instance.

Primary Skill Associated Job Abilities
Trade Merchant The ability to see what a town or city really wants, and what they’ll pay top prices to get. A good trader is a valuable asset in a caravan!
Battle Soldier The ability to see off attacks as well as take battle to the enemy. A good soldier can also be a good hunter when tracking wild animals. Soldiers are also keen-eyed lookouts and can protect the caravan at night.
Rituals Ritegiver A good rite-giver knows all the local rituals and can perform appeasement rituals as well as calm the spirits of the caravan.
Animals Drover If you want to drive livestock across the wastes you’ll be needing a good carer for the animals. Someone good with animals knows how to make a good trade for them, can keep them healthy on long treks and calm them during storms.
Wayfare Pathfinder An understanding of the environment around you and the animals within it. Someone with high wayfare knowledge can help in numerous ways where environmental knowledge is required, such as when hunting. Someone with wayfair skills can even help with ritegiving if they know enough about the particular shrine

Sacrificial Offerings
You’ll come across a wide variety of shrines and temples. As each shrine is dedicated to an aspect of deity, each religion has a different interpretation. For example, a Roman visiting a moon shrine will wish to honour Artemis, while a Parthian will wish to honour Anahita.

Because of this wide melting pot of cultures, they often agree on the appropriate sacrifice, but occasionally differ. For some shrines, the required offering varies based on the location of the shrine too.

Silk / Spices* / Food
Horses / Silk* / Food
Goats / time*
Goats / time*
Goats / time*
Goats / time*
Goats / time*

-*In special circumstances.
Hints and Tips: The Heroic Destinies
There are four winning conditions in Silk based on your chosen destiny. Each one a different task to complete the game, and each starts at a different place on the map.

The heroic destinies increase in difficulty left to right.

Starting Position
Travel all the way from Antioch to Loulan and back.
Make enough money to hire sufficient soldiers to overrun all cities and mints of the Partian empire (the Persian Revolt)
Capture Treasure from three Imperial Mints (Rise of a Parthian nomadic clan)
Become widely renowned, trade high value goods and be a highly valued trading ally in at least twenty towns or citadels.

Each destiny begins with different levels of goods and money. Traveller is an easy destiny, since you have a lot of money to begin with and an easy task ahead. Noble is the hardest, starting with little.


If your heroic destiny is to rule an empire, or become the most influential trader in the whole of Asia, you will need to glance periodically at the Pause screen. This shows your influence and notoriety between yourself and the five major groups within the area.

More Information
If you’d like to know more about the region, its peoples and politics, there is a lot of information both online and in print to choose from. The below just gives a few sources to get you started.


Printed Media


Thanks for reading. I hoped you enjoyed this 80s style manual. I hope it was as informative as it was enjoyable. - DBM
emmacsisco Oct 1, 2021 @ 10:22am 
Well done! I haven't read an immersive guide like that in a long time! It was a fun read and informative enough to really help because I have been struggling to figure out the areas with looking at a map.
Dark Blue Monkey  [author] Jul 9, 2021 @ 6:10am 
@Glucose .... [contd]

So, the reason why I called it the "unofficial 1986 guide" and not "The list of cities to visit in order to make money and win quickly" was really to highlight that this isn't just a spreadsheet, it's emulating the big thick paper manuals we used to get. The hope is that dropping hints might let you have that "aha!" moment and thrill of finding a good route.
Dark Blue Monkey  [author] Jul 9, 2021 @ 6:10am 
@Glucose The idea of the 'guide' is not to be a replacement for the manual or a spreadsheet. Chris has already written a great manual for it. To just list the cities, prices, and best trade routes pretty much eradicates the point in playing. The fun of a game like this is to enjoy the setting, explore, learn a little, and win the game using "in-world" knowledge.

In the 80s, manuals for games like this would have more descriptive info. They'd give you cultural or historic notes. All the of the 'textual' in formation in this actually comes from researched I did, and then 'adapted' to fit the game. I read dozens of sources, including archaeological studies of some of the Silk-road cities in the deserts that have been lost to history. Slight deviations may be due to Chris tweaking the economy since I wrote it to favour certain routes, or to reflect the fact that his stock items are really just stand-ins for the variety of goods that really would have been available at the time.
Glucose Jul 8, 2021 @ 4:14am 
While fascinating as a Pseudo-Historical Novel it lacks a lot of what I'd consider vital information for a guide. Such as what is the speed of the animals? How much can they carry? How much do goods weigh? Regional prices? Good deals? Advisor skills and what they mean? There's a ton missing here.

Like for the city descriptions what you've written is pretty and all but practically useless from a gameplay perspective. For example what was written for Antioch is weird, why mention spices as if they're profitable when buying them there would result in a net loss in most places to the east?

So, beautiful guide, just not very useful when it comes to actual ingame mechanics.
Namekujisennin Jun 13, 2021 @ 9:39pm 
I discovered your reviews by digging from this wonderful manual. I allowed myself to send you a friend request, as I'd like to keep track of your new reviews. Cheers and thanks, good sir!
Seb_Joel Jan 10, 2020 @ 11:14am 
It's an excellent guide and I'm happy I read it entirely, it's very vivid and well-written, you must have spent a huge amount of time to write this,thank you very much.