Any given group of players – when presented with a marketplace or new town – will ask for some fairly predictable things; blacksmiths, magic items, herbalists and alchemists, spell components (if you as a DM insist on such things) and some kind of transport like a horse and cart. But can you pull their eye with something else? Can you present them with something new, and memorable?
A good vendor, trader, or shopkeeper can really lend some memorable characterisation to a town or city. Those assembled below are presented using D&D 5th edition rules, but are readily adjusted for other systems and editions.
The Mould Beetle
The massive iron-black beetle would be a terrifying sight to wander the desert bazaars, but for the wooden cart it tows behind, clattering with glass jars filled with varying species and colours of mould, rot, and fungi. Incapable of coherent speech, bartering and enquiries are a complicated affair of chittering and emphatic gestures.
Green mould (5 silver a jar) functions identically to a day of rations, except that a player proficient with a herbalists kit can attempt to create another day of rations from it with a successful DC 14 Wisdom check over 24 hours.
Yellow (40 gold per jar) and brown mould (100 gold) can be cultivated with a DC 14 nature check and proper care and attention to cover a 5 ft. area every 24 hours.
An investigation check DC 13 will spot the metal and glass jars with an odd label that seems to describe someone being engulfed in a fire that turns brown and sticky. The brown mould grenado (200 gold per jar) is half brown mould and half alchemists fire. When thrown as an improvised weapon it deals 2d4 fire damage to any creature struck by it, and it then creates a 10 ft. radius area of brown mould*.
Other moulds and fungi might have medicinal properties, rapidly dispose of bodies, or serve as magic spell components. Of course, the beetle cannot tell you what your character might be interested in, you will have to rely on investigation and nature checks to pour through his supplies.
Laught Prednu – The Mythic Deli
(pronounced Lorft Pred-noo) Everyone in town talks about Laught the butcher, and if you ask around for a good meal his is the first name to trip off their tongues, or the group could follow the sweet, permeating smell. The open fronted store is decorated with the heads of beasts that even some adventurers may think are myths, various bows and spears are hung above the long hot-plate, upon which the scrawny walnut-skinned man serves a wide variety of meat dishes, a pair of cleavers spinning between his fingers.
A simple meal (4 silver) immediately heals 1d4 hit points and relieves a level of exhaustion no matter the source. Any checks made to relieve symptoms or cure a disease afflicting the diner have advantage for the next 2 hours.
Roll 1d4 to see what exotic dishes are available this week, each costs 50 gold:
1: Displacer gravy causes attacks against the drinker to be made with disadvantage for the next 1 minute if drunk cold, and the next 1 hour if drunk hot.
2: Hydra jerky should never be eaten past half its length. After 24 hours it regrows two more half-lengths from the remaining length. Once this has been done three times it can provide 1 day of rations, then 2 days, then 4 days, and so on. When it reaches 4 days it weights 1 lb, and from their continues to double in weight.
3: Manticore kebab must be eaten within 24 hours. Ranged weapon attacks made at short range have advantage for 1 minute after eating.
4: Basilisk hock gives the diner immunity to petrification for 24 hours.
Feel free to add more if you can think of them.
Laught is surprisingly knowledgeable about the wider wilderness, able to mark on any map handed to him the location of almost any site of interest, but he’s not wholly willing to share the information to anyone who is not a customer, or willing to pay for the information.
Perfumery and herbalist – A kindly old half-elven lady tends the counter and offers exotic herbal teas to any who cross her threshold. A player can buy incense for rituals and herbs for creating healing potions, but a perfume might offer advantage on persuasion and deception checks… or disadvantage if worn in the wrong crowd.
The Information Peddler – Charles “Fat Charlie” LaGrande is the sort to take money from a caravan to find a group of capable bodyguards, charge the bodyguards to find them a job, and take payment from bandits to tell them the caravan’s content and the number of bodyguards. He can, however, be immeasurably useful.**
Curses Removed – A bitter and unpleasant elven man appears behind the counter only when any of the various cursed items on the shelves are touched, to warn of dreadful fates that might befall those who can’t keep their pudgy fingers to themselves. He takes payment in precious jewels only, and removes curses from items and people while attempting to leave the rest unharmed.
Fletchwing Stables and Mounted Aviary – A high tower in the middle of any large city, breeders of griffins, hippogriffs, and various other winged creatures trained as mounts. They also sell horses, riding dogs for halflings and similar small clients, and messenger birds. They pay out well for unhatched griffin eggs, but a grown and trained griffin is still a costly purchase.
My list of potential Dungeon Situational articles is getting longer, rather than shorter, and until Mr Broadhurst at Raging Swan takes down the bold text that says submissions are closed, I guess I’ll keep giving these ideas to you guys for free. What would you like next week?
*If you are unfamiliar, brown mould does large amounts of cold damage as it devours all heat, and fire causes it to grow exponentially. Check out a Dungeon Master’s guide for the exact numbers, or just make it up.
**Bit of a story behind this one, I created Fat Charlie many years ago as the eternal “DMs best friend” NPC, a perfect story-driving character and all round untrustworthy guy. Then I saw the image above by MisterAozame, and it was as though he (probably he, right?) had reached into my head and plucked the face straight from my imagination. Damn, I wish I could draw like that.