Adventure Hook: The Magical Bazaar

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 8, 2011

I’ve always found the idea of purchasing magical items boring. As a player I’d rather my character risk life and limb to battle monsters and delve into dangerous catacombs in hope of finding a special magical item. However, the reality is that I usually only find one or maybe two items this way. In order to fill out the rest of my PC’s inventory I usually end up purchasing the majority of his gear. This is the way D&D works.

As PCs advance and level up they’re eventually going to accumulate vast wealth. It’s an unavoidable reality. With this abundance of gold pieces comes the inevitable request to purchase magical items. PCs many not be able to purchase magic items in the middle of a dungeon crawl, but as soon as they hit a larger metropolis there’s few excuses for why they can’t convert their hard gotten gains into something more functional and portable.

For years the very first thing the PCs in our home games did when they visited larger towns or cities was to find “Ye Olde Magic Shoppe,” even before they looked for an inn or tavern. The PCs knew that if they didn’t make their purchases immediately the DM would try to rush them out of the city on the next leg of the adventure before they could spend all those gold pieces.

Magical transactions of this nature are boring. Rarely do we even bother role-playing this scenario any more. The DM simply says something like, “You can find any common or uncommon item up to your level +2 in this shop. Standard prices from the book. Go at it.” Zzzzzzz. Snooze. I’ll admit this is certainly the fastest and easiest way to handle these kinds of situations, but it really feels like a cheat to the players and to the game in general.

I’m not suggesting that any time a PC wants an item it should become a 10 minute role-playing session. If that was the case you could easily spend an entire session doing nothing but gearing up. But there are certainly ways to make purchases, especially purchases that involve powerful magical items, more interesting. After all it seems pretty unlikely that “Ye Olds Magic Shoppe” would have every item in D&D available for the PCs every time they arrive.

The solution is to hold a magical bazaar where anyone and everyone from across the realm shows up in one designated location to buy, sell and trade magic items. Think of it like a giant Thanksgiving Day sale. People mark it on their calendar and rearrange their entire schedules to be there. The sheer volume of goods means that anything and everything is available.

Working this kind of annual event into your campaign suddenly allows the DMs to severely limit the quantity of rare and powerful items when PCs are making day-to-day transactions. If they really want a +3 sword they’ll have to wait for the bazaar or go adventuring to find one.

This kind of gathering has tremendous potential. In order to maintain the safety of the vendors and the patrons, the bazaar is considered neutral grounds. No fighting and no stealing. Anyone caught violating these terms is never welcomed back again. Considering that this might be the only way for some adventurers to ever get those really hard to find items, would they risk permanent banishment by violating the rules?

A neutral meeting means that monsters can also participate. After all, Dragons and other intelligent, long-lived creatures likely have a lot of gold pieces and a wide assortment of items in their treasure horde. Why wouldn’t they want to buy and sell as well?

Another possible way to keep things orderly is to hold the bazaar in a magic-dead area. Vendors can perform a special ritual that will allow them to demonstrate that a magical item works, but the ritual only lasts for a limited time (maybe 1 or 2 rounds). This puts everyone, PCs and their potential enemies, on a more level footing if combat were to happen.

A gathering of this size requires other amenities including a place for everyone to eat, sleep and rest. There’s likely to be a lot of standing around so entertainment is required as well. Perhaps there’s even an area where PCs can try out their latest magical item in an area. Combat is magically altered so that all damage is non-lethal and no one dies.

The magical bazaar is an easy way for DMs to make those otherwise boring transaction more exciting and create an entire gaming session around buying and selling magic treasure. By making it an annual event it gives the PCs something to look forward to as they continue adventuring. Now when they find an item they can’t use they just tuck it away until they can trade it at next year’s magical bazaar.

Eberron

Cannith Fest is a magical bazaar held annually and sponsored by House Cannith. Every year they use the bazaar to unveil their latest magical creations (think of it like the Detroit Auto Show). It’s also a chance for Cannith to sell off any surplus items that they have in their warehouses. House Kunderak oversees all transactions and shares security responsibilities with House Deneith and House Tharashk.

Adventure hooks:

  • The PCs acquire an item they cannot use that they know is valuable and rare. They realize that they’d never get the anywhere near it’s full worth if they try selling it in a regular town. They decide to bring it to the magic bazaar to trade it for something they can actually use.
  • During last year’s magical bazaar the PCs ordered a special item. When they arrive this year they learn that the vendor they’re looking for never arrived at the festival. Did he run off with their money or did he meet with an untimely accident on the way here?
  • The adventurers spot numerous NPCs they know are tied to an evil organization. If the heroes try to apprehend these villains during the bazaar they’ll violate the neutrality policy and risk permanent expulsion. These are notoriously slippery individuals and if the PCs don’t act they’ll likely lose them again.
  • Hearing that the PCs are in the market for a particularity rare magical item, an intelligent monster (Dragon, Beholder, Illithid) approaches the PCs and offers to sell one to them. Do the PCs have any issue transacting with evil monsters? What if the PCs recognize the item as something that once belonged to a friend, ally, or local hero? How do the PCs react knowing that this monster likely killed that individual and is now selling his stuff?
  • The heroes hear a lot of people asking about one particular magic item that none of the vendors seem to have. Eager consumers express a willingness to pay well above market price for it. One of the PCs thinks he knows where to find one of these items, but it means a long and dangerous dungeon delve. If they heroes leave now they can easily be back before the next magical bazaar.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sunyaku November 8, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Very much agreed. I like to structure gatherings of merchants or “bazaars” like this around seasonal/regional festivals. This can also give players a reason to travel from place to place, outside of the more typical adventure hook.

2 Anaxeto November 8, 2011 at 10:15 pm

This is an awesome idea. I use our groups forums to allow pcs to haggle or purchase gear and interact with shop owners for rumors etc. One of our group is marrying the smith’s daughter but I like this idea for my other face to face campaign. They rarely engage in rp with shop owners and much happier to grab the book to shop. This would work really well for a market place in the city of brass or Sigil in Paragon and Epic tier where Maruts and the like could be transacting trades and sales for the gods themselves not to mention demons, devils or primordials. All kinds of hooks open up. Cheers!

3 Wimwick (Neil Ellis) November 9, 2011 at 1:01 am

I love this idea. It reminds me of the old days in EQ, the tunnel in EC. Everyone trying to sell their items to the highest bidder.

On another note, I would like to see magic items take a step back to being rarer in D&D. While 4e magic items mechanically make sense to the game, magic has become too common. WotC tried to counter this with magic item rarity, but in a home game rarity doesn’t hold much sway. The only way to really make magic items rare or powerful is to limit the amount and the powers of those items.

4 Thorynn November 9, 2011 at 5:30 am

Awesome idea, but I’m with Wimwick. I would like to see more item rarity rather than gear for every slot. Possible mini-encounter/recurring NPC – The peddler/tinker. He has some mundane and a few fantastic magic items hand picked by the DM. He might just have the perfect item for what the party is about to face. Who is this guy, anyway? (maybe a god or demon in disguise…)

5 Bobby C November 9, 2011 at 8:03 am

I like giving a name and a history behind all magical items. Giving them a history means so much more to the game than just a + whatever sword that also allows you to do this…
History allows you to build encounters and campaigns and allows characters to show off their history knowledge. This can also lead a character to enjoying the back story behind the item so much, he will hang onto the item even when a more powerful item comes along.

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