The Silk Road is a major trade route with three points of origin: north of Tibet, southern Tibet and via the ocean through southern India..
It is exclusive to either Horse Lords or Jade Dragon expansions, and can be accessed from the Trade map mode. Provinces along the Road receive a passive income boost to their castles, cities and temples. Trade posts can be constructed at key locations along the road to further increase income.
Proper use of the Silk Road system can grant any ruler a massive edge over others. The slight income bonus is merely the tip of the benefits (and with Jade Dragon DLC, risks) of the Silk Road System.
- Trade Post: A trade post is a sub-settlement (like Forts and Hospitals) that can be constructed by any ruler in a county they own that is considered an important location for the Silk Road. It gives several benefits for its owner, namely income and levy/tax bonuses for the whole county.
- Trade zone: A Trade Zone is composed by trade posts in neighboring regions (can be both maritime and terrestrial). Commercial values of each trade post within it are summed up to give the value of the Trade Zone.
- Commercial Value: A shared aspect with the Merchant Republic trade system. It is determined by a number of factors, primarily the buildings of each Trade Post within the same trade zone. It determines the income bonus of all regions in and surrounding the trade zone in which the Silk Road passes. It can be doubled with an Imperial Trade Deal.
With patch 2.8, the Silk Road has been totally revamped. Trade Posts are now more important, as they received additional building options and are more scarce; the tax bonus given by the mere existence of the Road has been increased from a factor of 5 to 10
Any ruler owning a county that is considered an important area for Silk Trade is able to build a Trade Post in it for the cost of 50 gold. However, they won't be able to exceed a certain limit, which is equal to 1+ their Technology level in Commercial Practices.
The buildings that can now be constructed to enhance a Trade Post are:
- Market: With 3 upgrade levels, this is the main building of any Trade Post. It gives bonuses to Trade Post base income, and adds +25/+50/+100 Commercial Value to the Trade Zone, further improving the income bonus of the region.
- Guarding Post: Successor to a similar building in earlier versions of the Silk Road, it gives several hundred percent garrison size bonus, starting at 200%, fortification levels, and a small bonus to Commercial Value.
- Trade Office: These add a slight bonus to monthly prestige and retinue size. In addition, it gives a bonus to Technology spread (starting at 25%).
Imperial Trade Deal
An Imperial Trade Deal with the Emperor of China doubles the income, the tax bonus and the commercial value of any trade posts within the lucky ruler's country. While not very significant or useful when said ruler is in an expansion phase or has to defend their territory, in peacetime it allows them to build up their demesne more quickly and to stockpile wealth for war.
Trade During War
Just as with the Merchant Republic-style Trade Posts, a Trade Zone in the Silk Road won't suffer directly from a war. However, any Post within it that lies within an occupied county will lose 0.5 Commercial Value for each day of occupation.
Unlike the earlier system, benefits of the Silk Road won't cease with the occupation of a county located upstream in the chain of provinces neighboring the Silk Road. Instead, the trade benefits will slowly decrease with time, and then return to their normal levels after the occupation ends and business resumes.
Any county that changes ownership after a war will immediately lose any Trade Post located in it, and the new holder will have to restart from the beginning the development of this post. However, nomadic rulers can conquer provinces and retain the trade posts, provided they were not destroyed during the war.
Owning a county neighboring the Silk Road gives access to a number of events.
While owning one of the few coastal counties housing the Silk Road, a ruler may receive a visit from a Radhanite merchant, representative of a Jewish community of traders. The ruler will be offered three choices:
- Agree to house the Radhanite traders: The ruler will have to pay around 120 gold, but in return, they will gain 50 Prestige, and a modifier lasting for 50 years giving +5.00 income and +10 city tax: Radhanite trade route
- Grant the representative a city within your coastal county, thus making him your vassal: The ruler will have to pay more gold and will suffer a small opinion penalty with the remaining burghers. But, in return, he will gain 100 Prestige, and a modifier twice as powerful as the one before: Radhanite main route.
- Decline the offer.
Chinese Trade Administrator
A ruler within range of the Eastern edge of the map (usually, no farther than Balkh) whose demesne borders the Silk Road may receive a Chinese Ambassador, asking them to send a tribute of horses to his lord.
This tribute will cost the ruler about 36 months of income, but he will gain in recognition some Grace (with Jade Dragon; around 200). Some time later, a Chinese trade administrator will arrive in his court and add a modifier for the duration of his life to the ruler's capital county, Chinese Trade Administrator. This modifier grants Commercial Value, income and tax bonus.
*Note: Stealing away another ruler's modifier isn't possible, even when taking his administrator. But sending him by kow-tow back to China (with Jade Dragon) will remove your enemy's modifier, and give you a good amount of Grace as well.
With the Jade Dragon DLC, a ruler whose realm engulfs the Silk Road will receive periodically, i.e every 20 years or so, an angry complaint from the General Protector of the Western Protectorate. He will request him to reprimand his disloyal traders that affected Chinese interests. Three choices will be offered to the ruler:
- Agree to the General's demands for their demesne. This will add for 6 months a bad modifier, reducing City tax by 20% in all their demesne counties that house the Silk Road. The ruler will gain 50 Grace in return.
- Agree to the General's demands for their whole realm: all vassals along with him will get the modifier. The ruler will get a -15 opinion modifier for 6 months with all affected vassals, but will gain in return 100 Grace.
- Do nothing. The ruler will lose 100 Grace, and some Prestige.
Status of China
If the Jade Dragon DLC is active, the status of China itself will affect the profitability of the Silk Road.
The Silk Road can give massive benefits to a ruler, which, if carefully used, can turn the tide of the game in your way.
Overthrowing your liege
The Silk Road makes it far easier to rise to power as a vassal, if you come to hold an important county for the Road. Within a Kingdom-rank realm, seizing control of most, if not all, commercially important provinces will make you the most powerful vassal in the realm.
Even a single Trade Post can easily double your monthly income, thus raising it almost at the level of your liege's, especially in underdeveloped regions such as India or in smaller realms.
Commercially important counties are neuralgic points in your enemy's realm, especially if they are part of the liege's demesne. Managing to occupy all Trade Posts will pose a severe blow to his economy, and give you appreciable amounts of loot and Warscore. Prioritizing these counties after winning the battling part of the war will give you a fast path to victory.
Funding the war campaigns
Carefully developing your Trade Posts almost dispenses you from developing the economic buildings in your demesne. The problems of funds and negative income that most European rulers suffer from early in the game will become unknown to you, as 2 Trade Posts with level 2 or 3 Markets will very easily cover your war expenses, and even allow you to permanently supplement a mercenary band if you feel like it.
On an even brighter note, the AI rarely feels like developing their Trade Posts, even if with Jade Dragon, this tends to change. Developing your Trade Posts at good levels can therefore give you a decisive edge over most neighboring realms, granting you an income far above theirs even with inferior realm size.
Preparing for lean years
With Jade Dragon, remember that the Silk Road can have reduced profitability or even be completely shut down by China. As such, invest some money into increasing your realm holdings' income. If you're at least a king and located near the coastline, consider setting up a vassal merchant republic.