Hmph. While I have a bunch of studying I ought to be doing right now . . . I'm just not feeling it. So instead, you're getting another video game-related post.
In our last installment, we were discussing the stranger skills of Oblivion. This time, I'd like to discuss the very strange state of Mercantilism. The mercantile skill allows you to get more money for the things you sell to people. In order to truly understand this, we'll need to go back to Morrowind.
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In Morrowind, merchants only had so much gold on them. Let's say a merchant has 500 gold on him. If you sell him 500 gold worth of goods, he has nothing left. If you now buy something from him, he has whatever you pay. Tomorrow, his money will reset to 500 gold, as if he stopped by the bank to make a deposit (or withdrawal).
This presented a problem, in that oftentimes you would end up with items worth far more than any shopkeeper would have on them. You could sell the item, but what's the point? You'll just get a pittance for it. There was a "secret" merchant in the game who had 5000 gold on him (a significant improvement over all the other vendors). He even gave you full price for all of your goods, regardless of mercantile score. It was common practice for players to sell him exactly 5000g worth of materials, wait a day for his money to reset, then repeat the process. You might waste a month or more of ingame time just unloading goods on him, but you'd end up with more money than you'd ever know what to do with.
So let's step into Oblivion. This system must have irked people, so instead of a maximum amount of gold the merchant had on them, their "limit" set the maximum price they would pay for any given item. Of course, this led to oddities; for example, a merchant might refuse to buy your stack of 10 potions for 1000 gold, but they might agree to buy each individual potion for 100 gold. Eh, whatever.
There is a strong incentive to raise your mercantile skill. Not only will merchants give you better prices when you sell them goods, but they'll have a higher limit on what they'll buy back. At the highest level of mercantile, you can even invest in each merchant, further raising their limit on buyback.
So how do you raise mercantile? By selling stuff back to people. Now, this comes naturally, given that you'll spend your game time crawling through dungeons and returning to town with a backpack full of stuff with a price tag on it. However, this process slows down considerably as the game goes on. You'll often have to sell many, many items just to raise mercantile one point. If you really want to work on it, you can buy, say, 200 arrows from a merchant, then sell them back one at a time.
This way lies madness. It's not as if you just put your cursor over the sell button and start jamming on the left mouse button. You have to consciously select items, prices, and confirmations. It's often a laborious process just to clear out your bag, much less sell individual items. And so, mercantile . . . will . . . level . . . v . . . e . . . r . . . y . . . s . . . l . . . o . . . w . . . l . . . . . . . . . . . y.
In the end, this one doesn't affect things terribly much. You'll still be selling items of such value by the end of the game that you'll end up with more money than you know what to do with. It's just an oddity. And I love it.