Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Revisiting the Magic Shoppe

You've got a problem, DM.  Your players are going to earn a lot of gold over the course of their dungeoneering careers (somewhere around 4 million gp).  Unless that money goes somewhere, the quest for treasure is going to lose its motivating force.  On the other hand, draining the coffers through taxes or training costs is fairly irritating.

The campaign should encourage the players to shape the world - provide reasons to build things, hire people, use that wealth to exert force against the setting.  But don't discount the idea of buying magic items, either.  The popular imagination jumps to Crazy Eddie's franchise of Ye Olde Magic Shoppes, one in every city, where "the prices are so low they're practically insaaaaane!"

Let's step back and look at what happens in the real world with rare, unique, and precious items.  They’re typically bought and sold at auctions.  There's a fun Call of Cthulhu adventure (The Auction House) that takes place at a Vienna locale where various occult and mythos artifacts come up for sale - including the Brazen Head.  Half of the fun of that particular adventure is the roleplaying opportunity introduced by meeting all the weird visitors to the auction and trying to appraise and research the provenance of the items before the auction begins.

Apply some imagination and make the commercial side of it worth playing out at the table.  The campaign is already built upon interesting NPC's - perhaps the magic auction is something that happens a few times a year, invitation-only to characters of a certain reputation and wealth.  It's somewhere exotic and secret, attended by the agents of emperors and kings and wizards, and rivals of the adventurers, past and present.  Competition at the auction can easily spill over to the streets once the auction is done - the agents of the Warlord of Thar don't take it lying down when they've been outbid on that heirloom Atlantean sword coveted by his august presence, Thar of the Shining Horde.  Just learning about the auction house itself requires footwork and becomes its own adventure.  It sure sounds like a memorable way to let the players spend a few hundred thousand gold.

Commissioning items is the same - make it quest driven and advance the development of the campaign world.  For Taenarum, the campaign in development now, I'm planning on having the 'Forge Followers of Hephaestus' as a remote sect of dwarves and priests whose holy mission is to craft imbued items in homage to the forge god.  Traveling to their volcanic shrine and commissioning a suit of golden plate armor is an end in itself.  Or perhaps the wizard Darius the Proud refuses to be outdone by his rivals in distant Araby, and can be motivated to craft those Boots of Speed because of a story that a desert wizard did it first.  The key is to put the onus on the players to do their own research, travel plans, and role playing to find creative reasons to spend their money on the items they want or need.  As referee, you just need to leave the door open - none of this "No one ever buys or sells magic items in MY campaigns…"

People with too much money buy and sell rare and unique items every day in the real world.  It's going to happen in the fantasy world too - you just need to figure out how to make it interesting.


  1. This caveat is key. The creepy, strange, obscuritarian, and bizarre make for great "magic shops," particularly if all the items aren't necessarily magical. Always deal carefully with those who spend their time indoors beneath groaning shelves of weird treasure, I say.

  2. Very nice post. Combined with your allusion earlier of kid fantasies about a super awesome "club house" (which might or might not account for some of the dungeons that are out there), and I think there are more than enough ways to spend that hard won gold!

  3. Not a fan of Ye Magick Shoppe myself but I agree the piles of cash make it hard to motivate folks that do nothing with the cash.
    Stronghold building, even just a fancy estate can be a huge money sink and the more security one seeks the more wealth they need.
    I keep the money flowing by only giving exp when it is spent on training, sacrifices, gifting (outside other PCs), property, research and exceptional purchases. Just carrying it out doesn't earn exp by itself.
    I do let PCs make their own doodads like potions and scrolls and this requires unusual ingredients some of which can be found for sale but in and of themselves offer no direct power.
    The ingredients and even the raw products to acquire these ingredients are often monster bits or found in exotic and remote places so they provide a constant reason to adventure.

  4. The auction is an excellent and far more plausible idea than the standard thaumaturgical convenience store. Like JDJarvis, I have plenty of ways for player characters to lighten themselves of cash in the pursuit of their goals and interests, but it's good to have another alternative that gives them the chance to pay for something they desire rather than forcing them to go on side quests that might not fit in the adventure schedule.

  5. Dave Arneson used magic-item auctions in the very early days of Blackmoor. So the idea has been around for awhile. I'm not sure why it never really caught on in D&D fandom. Especially since the ultra-elite auction is a fairly common trope in movies.

  6. This is a great idea that I plan to use if my players ever ask about buying magic items. And it seems to me that to even get invited to an auction or to attempt to commission the creation of an item would entail jumping through several hoops first.

  7. I'm cautious about using the expression 'jumping through hoops' - the main goal is to make the buying and selling of magic items more interesting (and rational) than going to the Walmart and picking a sword +1 off the rack. However, there's no doubt the added difficulty is a nice byproduct!

  8. I play ACKS so the main sinkhole for cash is stronghold and empire building, hiring mercenaries, keeping armies, and producing your own magic items through (expensive) magical research. You can also try to buy magic items, but you'll have a better chance commissioning them.

    But still, amass gold, and you can build strongholds and raise an army. Isn't that motivation enough?