Arguably the best way to play Red Dead Online is messing around in Free Roam, interacting with other players, hanging out with a posse of friends, and making your own fun and mischief. But if you want something more specific to do, and clearer goals to shoot for, the roles system brings some welcome structure to the experience. There are three in total—Collector, Trader, and Bounty Hunter—each of which features a unique set of systems, missions, and rewards.
I like a gunfight or a bank robbery as much as the next rugged cowboy, but I decided to pursue the Trader role, hoping it might be a more laid back way to spend time in Red Dead's atmospheric world. I also enjoy hunting in the game, particularly with the bow. Watching an arrow sail silently towards a target and hit it with a thunk is a supremely satisfying feeling. As a Trader, animals you hunt can be donated to Cripps, the eccentric old guy who looks after your camp, who will then turn the raw materials into goods you can sell.
To get started you first have to visit a post office and pick up a letter from Cripps, who'll ask you to meet him at a general store near your camp. There's a catch, however: you'll need 15 gold bars, Red Dead Online's premium currency, to invest in the butcher table required to start the role. Luckily my pre-order copy of the game came bundled with 50 gold bars, but if you don't have enough you'll have to earn them, which can take a while, or bite the bullet and buy them. Honestly, I think accessing these roles should be a little cheaper.
Fork over the gold and the butcher table will appear in your camp, letting you get started with the Trader role proper. Instead of taking animal skins and carcasses to a butcher to sell (the usual routine for most players) bring them here instead and they'll contribute towards a resource called materials, which Cripps needs to create goods. Over time your goods meter will fill up and when you've amassed a certain amount, depending on the size of your delivery cart, you can load them up and ship them to customers for a tidy profit.
Roughly speaking, 20 goods will earn you about $40 for a short distance delivery and around $60 for a long distance delivery. Short deliveries are easiest not only in terms of the time required to complete them, but because you can stay in defensive mode during them, making it harder for other players to kill you. But it's a different story on a long delivery, which will leave you open to attack from griefers and actually broadcasts your location to other players.
Me, I just stick with short deliveries. It's a lot less hassle and I'm willing to sacrifice that $20 if it makes my life easier. Being hassled by other players is a fact of life in Red Dead Online, but it's more frustrating when these encounters cut directly into your bottom line. As well as materials and goods, you also have to manage a resource called production. As Cripps creates goods the production meter—representing tools and supplies—will tick down and eventually empty.
To get more you can either spend $20 or embark on a supply mission, which involves stealing supplies from groups of armed bad guys. Always go for the latter, because the missions are relatively easy, usually close to your camp, and you'll earn Trader XP in the process, which can be used to unlock role-exclusive weapons, clothes, and other goodies. There are 20 Trader levels in total, and as you rise in the ranks you'll get access to fancier gear as well as useful items like a stew pot for your camp that gives you a full set of gold cores.
And that's about the size of the Trader role, which is a nice way of making money, if a little grindy at times. Whole three-star animal carcasses are by far the quickest way to replenish your materials, but you can't carry many, which means a lot of trips to the camp and back. Cripps will accept skins, but they fill up the materials meter much more slowly. Being a Trader can feel like busywork at times, but if you enjoy hunting it's the best way to profit from it.
If you're having trouble finding good quality animals, there's a farm next to Flatneck Station in New Hanover where you're guaranteed to find at least one three-star pig. Killing them won't impact your honour rating, so go hog wild. Load one on the back of your horse and drag another behind you with your lasso and you'll get a decent materials boost when you return to camp. This is pretty boring and repetitive, however. It's much more gratifying to actually go out hunting in the wilderness, but the option is there.
I'm not sure how often I'll return to the Trader role, but I've enjoyed my brief dalliance with it. Being a Bounty Hunter is obviously a lot more thrilling, but it's good to have the option to pursue something more sedate. I've always been excited by the potential of Red Dead Online for role-playing, and this is an effective way of giving players specific roles to fill. I prefer the unpredictable sandbox aspect of the game to the missions and activities, but if I ever need a cash injection I'll be lugging some more animals over to Cripps.