I ran across an awesome thread on Reddit the other day asking for advice on how to make buying mundane equipment interesting. It really got me thinking! Most of the interest in buying those kinds of items is in the role play of interaction, in my opinion. It sounds like the original poster’s group really digs their shopping scenes.
It seems to me there are three places where a little focus can make the shopping experience more exciting. Namely, by focusing on the locations, the individuals and of course on the items themselves. Today I’m just going to cover some ideas for improving the items themselves. I’ll work on advice for making your locations and individuals more interesting and engaging another time.
Cooler Items Please!
One of the challenges in dealing with adventurers after a few levels is that they have a ton of money laying around and nothing to spend it on. Particularly with 5th Edition, where there is a significant ‘taboo’ to letting players just buy whatever magic item they want. Back in 3.5E, everyone had goals for their money and the local magic shop seemed to have it all. Nowadays, it’s suggested to take weeks to track down a black market magic item salesman, and they rarely have what you’re actually looking for… Anyhow, that’s a big fat topic for another time!
A great suggestion in the thread was to add a simple +1/-1 mechanic or advantage/disadvantage mechanic to items based on quality. Want people to be excited about buying rope? Have all the normal stores start with rope that gives a -2 on checks to use it effectively. Sell them junk and make them deal with that.
Make the rope fray and potentially break during the course of their adventure so that they start thinking about bringing spares. You can do that by instigating consequences to checks that are failed by 5 or more. After all, if it’s ok to say people fall when failing a climb check by 5, why not that a failed check to use rope caused an impossible tangle or weakens the rope?
Adding quality modifiers to your mundane equipment allows you to vary the price of some simple equipment. That way, as your group gets some money, you can give them the option to buy rope that doesn’t have a penalty. For a mint, you could offer them some fancy rope that actually aids their checks.
When they go to some fantastic locations, they can learn about the location by the special goods available there. Elven rope weaving incorporates a special material, perhaps. So an elven town’s rope might be both more expensive and more awesome. Obviously, you can adapt that to all sorts of items.
A quick, important, Public Service Announcement. Make sure you get your player’s buy in on quality modifiers like this before you put it into place. Many a DM has lost the interest of their players with complicated systems. Be sure your players don’t want their shopping kept simple or by-the-book.
Items With Places to Be and Places they Been
Pardon the awful english of that heading. It made me smile. Giving the items some background and future can be an amazing way to get players interested in the purchase of mundane items. Particularly if you’re combining this with a quality mechanic.
Where they Been?
Wonders could happen if your party sees a battered steel shield for sale with a rent that looks like three large claws bent through the steel and start to wonder about where it came from. If you create a simple list of random damages or details and describe them when players purchase their equipment, you never know what might spark a player’s interest. One of the easiest ways to do that is to just come up with an adjective or two. Chipped, worn, frayed, scratched, torn, bent, shiny, sparkling, glowing, burnt, stolen, pawned… You see where I’m going, right?
Apply any one of those words to any item and you’ve got a gentle hook to pull your players into the question of “Where has this item been?” You can plan out some answers to that. Or you can make it up on the fly (be sure to write it down, when you do). Every now and then, the past of an item can come forward to haunt or bless the characters.
Where they Be Goin’?
If they don’t find that battered shield interesting, it could suddenly become interesting when they see that same shield on the arm of the hobgoblin warlord later in the session. How did the hobgoblin acquire that same shield? Did the merchant sell it to him? Why would he trade with the hobgoblin who is terrorizing the town?
Or perhaps it was stolen? How did the hobgoblin manage a theft that the group hadn’t heard about? Why did it take that shield over a more serviceable one? Is there something special about the shield that the group missed when looking at it themselves? Answering some of these questions can lead to a lot of fun places and take your story to new heights.
Another aspect of working out where items are going can be to put a few nice items in a shop, that perhaps the party can’t afford, and then selling them while the party is on their next adventure. If you caught their interest, they’ll notice. When you point out, “the obsidian sword you admired when last you were here no longer hangs above the storekeeper’s door” they might wonder where it went. They might or might not want to try to purchase it from its new owner. The questions they ask can lead you on to different paths.
If a Picture is Worth 1000 Words, What’s a Prop Worth?
The heading kind of tells the whole message. If you really want your players engaged, add a few props to your shopping trip. Red herrings work almost as well as plot hooks in this department, though it can be a lot of work to make a fancy prop if there’s nothing important about it. Personally, if I’m going to the trouble of providing a prop, I usually prefer for that prop to be attached to some cool story element.
Here at The Ettin’s Table, we 3d print a lot of our props. Both for our family game, and for yours. From scroll cases and wands to coins or magic runes, our 3d printing allows us a LOT of options that used to require WAY too much crafting ability and time.
One “prop” that isn’t a prop, per se, is to set up your characters favorite shop with its own dungeon tiles, shelves, and products. This can take a bit of extra work, but your end result is a place the group love to revisit, and small changes to the scenery can be hints and clues to tie them into the moment.
Creating objects that the players can touch and handle for themselves is really where 3d printed props shines, in my opinion. I’m really excited about our Scroll Cases. They can be printed in numerous colors and painted in so many more to provide a different ‘feel’ each time. We have so many more props in the works. I’m looking forward to testing them on my family and being able to offer them for your table, too.
Suffice to say, there’s lots of ways to make shopping more interesting. Both through the use of mechanics, and the use of good storytelling skills. Whether you’re using quality modifiers, 3d printed props, or simply adding extra descriptives to your shopping experience, I do guarantee that players who enjoy the shopping experience in their roleplay will enjoy it all the more if you take the time to add some extra details.
Anyhow, that’s just my 2 copper. If you’d like to add your own, you know where the comments box is!