Put Awe And Wonder Into Shops With These GM Tips

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GM Tips is our series to help Storytellers and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. Last week we talked about increasing your range of NPC voices and this week is all about making shopping fun.

Every adventurer buys gear. Equipment in tabletop games gets boiled down to mere modifiers on your sheet, or a tedious amount of bookkeeping. In some games, where the storyline supports character significant objects (like a family daisho), other items fade away and shopping becomes about food. For one reason or another, my particular groups of players love going to restaurants and that made me realize food was more fun than items. Gear had become something of a tedious bit of bookkeeping and shopping for high-powered sniper rifles had lost its appeal.

Shopping is not adventuring and it will never hold the same appeal as crawling through a dungeon—but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. The act of refilling your potion supplies, or even getting magical armor refitted, grounds players back into the world around them between adventures. With some minor, small tweaks, to how we handle shopping it is possible to make the experience immersive without it becoming its own adventure. Although, once you get in the swing roleplaying the shops, they tend to become side-quest central.

Start A Chain Store

Xanthar's Guide to Everything

Part of the problem with stores and shopping while adventuring is that every town has new shops. While this adds to diversity, it isn’t always something a GM wants to create every mission since fully fleshed out NPC’s take time and effort. The solution to this, is at the start of your campaign world, write down several shops with NPC’s and make them each a part of a chain. Traveling merchants that work from town-to-town or have advertisements wherever the party ends up (maybe even mail them a catalog in the middle of one adventure).

If you snickered at the last thought, a party of adventurer’s in a dungeon and a page delivers them a coupon booklet for healing potions at Brooke & Talbot’s Adventuring Supply Shack you’re on the right track. By having a single point of focus for shops, you can channel your creativity into making the store brands and recurring shops thematic rather than inventing from scratch each town. We’ve even had store brands compete with each other as the story evolved, giving players choices over where they would unload their magical loot.

Adding Extra Trinkets Goes Miles

Next time you are running an adventure, request a perception check from the players as they take a short rest. To the character who scores the highest, describe a small rock on the ground that catches their eyes. Upon closer inspection, the rock has two names etched into it, with a heart around them and a date—a love stone. It’s not worth any monetary value, and, it can be a completely random item without any impact in the storyline. Regardless, the players will roleplay about that object, come up with crazy theories, and may even ask around at the next town for those characters to return it home or even sell it.

Adding extra small or cute trinkets to the game that always stem from happiness or heartbreak go miles. The adventuring world is always bleak and filled with murder, so these small trinkets discovered amidst their daily horrors add wonder and reason to them. They don’t need to mean anything as long as you draw from some place of wonder when you build them. If your players are in a shop and one has done a particularly good deed of late… perhaps the shopkeeper awards them a keepsake.

Broken Gear Is The Best Gear

Wonder Shop Flamethrower

I love broken gear. Not the mechanically broken gear or incredibly obtuse weapons D&D sometimes invents, but gear that is physically shattered. Magical equipment that sometimes works really well, and sometimes it explode are the best kinds of magical items! Particularly if you are trying to add wonder to shops. Broken gear gets players to enter shops in the first place, and I implore some GM’s to issue magical treasure as broken magical gear first. Having armor reforged to fit their needs, or a magical sword that was sundered in two becomes more wonderful if the characters witness the sparks of a forge flying.

On the flip side of the gear coin, is new equipment that breaks down. Over time that starting equipment explorer’s pack gets torn, ratty, and probably smells. If the characters go shopping, consider highlighting that nothing they find is as good as their starting pack… which is hand made in their starting village. The invocation of nostalgia to their original starting point can showcase just how long the journey has gone on. Sometimes, the players will journey all the way back home just for the right set of footwear, or other times… they will wear those boots until they fall off their feet (or some magical gear comes along, because let’s be real). Still, they’ll at least feel bad about swapping off their handmade leather boots for some pointy elven shoes.

Every storyteller needs random shops! Can you help others in the creation of random shops? Let us know what worked for you in the comments below or type up your favorite store that you’ve created!


Featured Image by: Wizards of the Coast

Image Credits: Wizards of the Coast

Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook.

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