The Dwarven Merchants' Guild is a powerful and extensively connected organization comprised of surface dwarves. Some of the Guild's members left the dwarven city of Orzammar to pursue business and trade on the surface while others joined after being exiled from the city.
The upper-class surface dwarf members of the Guild are composed of two distinct groups; the kalna who insist on maintaining caste and rank and ascendant who believe in leaving Orzammar's traditions behind and embracing surface life.
Dwarves emigrating to the surface bring with them the skills and talents they possessed as members of their caste in Orzammar. For those of the Noble and Merchant caste, this also means ties to surface traders and suppliers and the wealth to begin trading of their own on the surface. Many formerly Noble or Merchant caste dwarves maintain respectable if unofficial ties to their former houses and use them as a means to trade. For many years maintaining ties to Orzammar via trade was seen as essential to making a lucrative living – even as a sacred duty to their kin or a patron in Orzammar as leaving the city meant sacrificing their caste and clan. However, in recent years, many surface dwarves, particularly ascendants, have developed new ways of making a life on the surface by starting banks, mercenary companies, and overland trade caravans. These entrepreneurial dwarves became investors and speculators in purely surface trade without connection to Orzammar. These new industries have been lucrative sources of wealth but are looked down upon by those dwarves who respect maintaining strong ties to Orzammar.
For less affluent surface dwarves, association with a powerful kalna can open many doors. They can get credit with dwarven merchants and are offered work opportunities by the powerful Dwarven Merchants' Guild more readily, sometimes, than more qualified but less-connected individuals.
The Merchants' Guild is a world unto itself, one of social hierarchy and influence between kalna and ascendant as rigid as that found in Orzammar. Being a member of the Guild affords power and wealth and the membership is exclusive.
The Guild is administered by a council who hold meetings to maintain the functioning of the organization. Missing meetings is considered an insult. Crossing the Guild is also seen as a deadly offense. Council members hold the title of Deshyr, which is also used by the members of the Assembly in Orzammar.
Alliances tend to form around family Houses, much like in Orzammar. Many exiles from Orzammar reconstitute themselves as influential families of the guild, or alternatively the Carta. House Tethras, House Davri and House Vasca all wield considerable influence within the guild.
The Guild's main source of profit is the lyrium trade.
They appear to have an understanding with the Coterie in Kirkwall as Varric Tethras mentions that part of his job is to "[pull] strings to keep the Coterie out of our hair", presumably because the Guild pays them not to harm Guild members or steal their property. A similar agreement exists with the Carta as well. In addition, as implied in conversation with Varric, families compete with one another for profit and survival in the cut-throat world of the Guild.
Another area of Guild work is the sought-after sculptures of Ander artisans, which usually have religious theme and are the most prized in all of Thedas especially within circles of the Orlesian nobility who would pay exorbitant prices in order to have them. However, members of the Merchants' Guild who act as the middle party in these transactions keep most of the profits as "handling fees" while the artisans receive very little, if any.
Around 9:41 Dragon the Merchants' Guild sends emissaries to the great thaig of Kal-Sharok but they hear no news since from their delegation which makes the Guild doubtful that they will find them alive.
Surface trade and the Carta
Merchants who lack ties to Orzammar, either because they were cast out or had no contacts to begin with, must return to Orzammar to trade directly with the city, where they are treated as outcasts. For those dwarves the Carta acts as an intermediary, selling the surfacer's goods on the black market for a cut of the profit. The Carta's ability to facilitate trade between the surface and Orzammar is integral to the survival of the dwarven city which notably is not self-sufficient on food. Consequently, the Carta has infiltrated all aspects of dwarven life as upstanding members of the Merchants' Guild or even respectable dwarven lords cooperate with the criminal organization.
- According to Varric, the Merchants' Guild and the Carta function in much the same way, both dealing in smuggled goods and engaging in other dubious activities.
- Varric and Bartrand appear to use their influence in the Guild to run several fake businesses, presumably as fronts for other illegal dealings.
- The Guild owns all the taverns in Hightown.
Codex entry: Surfacer Dwarves
Codex entry: The Dwarven Merchants Guild
Codex entry: Surface Dwarves
Codex entry: Bartrand Tethras
Codex entry: Varric Tethras
Codex entry: Varric - After the Deep Roads
Codex entry: Varric - The Last Three Years
Codex entry: The Rascal's Scale, by Coinheart
Codex entry: The Coterie
Codex entry: An Unsigned Letter in the Hinterlands