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4.5 Reasons Why I Stat Out Store Inventories

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 06:53 AM EDT

Most RPG systems come complete with rules regarding shopping for new gear and equipment. Generally, the rules boil down to the following:

Location A has a population of B, with a wealth of C. The most expensive item that can be found there, D, can be sourced and bought in E hours/days.

The above works well, since it lets you get to the action faster (by skipping through the humdrum chore of grocery shopping) and avoid needlessly dragging out or over role playing a rather mundane aspect of your characters’ lives. However, I sometimes find (when used sparingly) that a unique in-game store (complete with full stock list) can add a little bit of extra life to your game.

It adds flavour: In my real-world travels, I have found that food and drink can really define a culture. So, when introducing players to a new in-game culture, I sometimes describe or list tavern menus, the make-up of a parcel of trail rations, what goes into the local brew or even, depending on the type of game, play out a cooking or eating contest. Too bad my players hardly seem to notice the effort I put into menus… though, hopefully, none of them read this and put me on the spot one day (causing me to default to, um… stew… yeah, stew with bread).

Note to self: use mopane worms in next game with non-SAffers.

It makes the players paranoid: Every classic villain or monster has some sort of weakness – vampires can’t handle sunlight; werewolves hate silver; a circle of salt is always handy; PCs hate detail; and so forth. When players come across a store that’s selling silver weapons, they immediately jump to the conclusion that they’ll soon be facing werewolves. However, since I’m a mean GM, the werewolves will never materialise and the players would have wasted their money on vials of Silversheen. That’ll teach them to abuse their meta-game knowledge!

It helps prepare players: Playing off the above, a GM could use a store to enable players (especially newer players) to better prepare for more types of encounters, with less threat of TPKing a party simply because they were unprepared to face whatever the random encounter table happened to throw at them.

One day, I must write about the one werewolf encounter I experienced from a player’s perspective: the only silver item the party had was my silver holy symbol. Imagine clubbing a werewolf to death with the smiling face of Pelor.

It makes the players feel unique: Overusing magic items can make them feel boring. And I rather dislike it when players refer to their equipment solely in terms of the mechanical bonuses it provide. I use unique stores to get around this – it’s one thing to have a Cloak of Resistance +1; it’s quite another thing to have Ilgag’s custom-tailored Cloak of Mind-Body Duality Shielding.

It’s an easy way to introduce some RPing: I have often used the traveling merchant to add a break to an otherwise combat-intensive session: the kobold bootlegger; the chubby halfling and his beautiful human wife; or the gullible ogre quartermaster. Plus, nothing gets a combat-junkie-dislikes-the-talking-part player involved with some real RP like having money on the line. To reference a discriminatory television advert from South Africa’s checkered past: “Discount? Discount?”*

In the near future, I’ll provide a list of alternate names for numerous 3.X magic items, a random table of tavern menus or regional delicacies, some sample stores for your games and my favourite player-paranoia inducing items.

- jatori

*I’m allowed to reference it.