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Shopping Spree!

Written by Nicholas - Published on December 13, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

Players spending their amassed wealth can be boring. Players flip through 4 books trying to find the mechanically optimal item for their character. As a DM you’re left to stare at a table full of people doing this. Then there’s always the one player who takes twice as long as everyone else. So now the whole group is waiting for one person to decide if his pocket change is better spent on a bag of tricks or a pouch of platinum. Most DMs will just do this stuff out of game or rush through it, but I think the shopping trip is an opportunity!

Breathe Life into the Town

Adventurers, as made clear by the name, spend their time adventuring. Even when they hang around in towns or cities it is usually combating a criminal syndicate or disposing the changeling that stole the prince’s throne. It is very seldom that they get to rub elbows with the average folks. Being out and about to spend their money is the rare chance to do that, so turn these folks into real characters! The wizard has to deal with an old mage whose mind is long gone and hardly makes sense anymore. The fighter gets trapped by a blacksmith who insists on regaling the fighter with all the stories of his old adventuring days. The rogue catches the eye of a flirty shop girl and now has someone to come back and talk to later.

This also makes the town feel much more real. As the players get to know the personalities in town, things can change for them.  A familiar shop might go out of business while another expands into a franchise. People get married, split up, retire and all sorts of things. Do prices go up when the tavern owner’s son takes over the business? These are the things that make your locations seem like part of a larger world.

The Special Stock

WotC developer Peter Schaefer wrote a great post on his blog about a special class of magic items. Essentially he says that it is often fun to have magic items more powerful than the traditional balance, but weaker than artifacts. In order to keep everyone from just taking these stronger items, you need to leave them entirely in the hands of the DM.

I bring this up because the shopping trip is a great place to introduce these items. After the fighter listens patiently to all of the blacksmith’s stories the smith offers the fighter his old adventuring sword. As the cleric walks down the road a shady street vendor offers to sell him a ring once owned by a saint, for a hefty fee of course. These special items are a great find for the players and can reward them for caring about the normal people around them.

New Path to Adventure

Once the players know the town better, it can springboard them into more personal adventures. The senile old mage may request the group to find a rare herb that will clear up the fog in his memory. Once they do he can reward them with some newly recovered knowledge. Maybe the flirty shop girl has a brother who was just captured by a criminal organization for gambling debts. She would be very grateful if the group could rescue him.

The heroes are always doing good things, but in this case they have a face associated with the deed. They are thanked every time they return to the store and maybe get discounts on future goods. Enough of this sort of mission can give them a reputation as local legends.


As I said at the top, shopping can be boring. There are some things that you need to avoid to make it work for your game. Players should have a good idea of what they want going into the store. If they must haggle, settle the whole process with a single roll. If only one players has money to waste, don’t make a big deal of it. Remember that shopping can be a social encounter but it should be fun for the whole group!

Do your players go on shopping sprees? Do you hum the shopping montage theme from “Pretty Woman”? Tell us about it in the comment section!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



12 Responses to “Shopping Spree!”
  1. Yonni says:

    I ran a game with my wife for complete noobs a few years back – and a mighty big bunch of noobs it was!

    To get them into the spirit of things, we set them off in a typical Tolkien-esque mid-size town, with all the usual draperies – blacksmith, weapons shop, wizard’s apothecary, tavern A, tavern B (which was higher end) and a thieves’ guild. Something for everybody.

    We gave each character an extra large wad of cash and set them loose.

    The shopping spree lasted 4 sessions and for some of them seemed to be more fun than the actual dungeon crawling – they constantly wanted to come back to the town (which now had a name, detailed history, memorable NPCs, two more taverns, special sales on weapons and a brothel).

    The characters went all out and haggled with everyone for everything. They got side quests. They got to buy the brand new Adi-dwarf line of designer armor and accessories (Steel toe boots and matching axe-purse with quartz rivets). They had amusing run-ins with the thieves guild. Real-life card games with random adventurers in the taverns (role-played by me and the wife, with extra querky simulations of cheating and magical larceny). Spa level treatments (including special elven produced oil massages and magically assisted herbal skin treatments)…. The brothel also featured a specialist psychic that gave … special sessions for those inclined to sharing feelings.

    When we finally tore them away I was almost sorry to let the town go :D

  2. Elderon says:

    thats good to know. great tips. as a dragon i have alot of gold and nothing to do. if i do buy something it usually a bag of holding or some kind of healing potion. though i try and get my claws on every book i can that is writen in Draconic. im really interested in our history and spells just for dragons, there are quite a few.

  3. I hadn’t thought of shopping trips being fun for quite a while, as a player I typically know what kind of gear I’m building towards so I typically walk in to any merchant shop and inquire if they have what I want.

    However it does lend an opportunity for the GM to introduce new unique magical items, especially if the GM loves to write detailed back stories into the items and allow the characters to explore that history through the merchant and the tomes of knowledge in the local wizard shops.

    Great article as usual keeps my mind humming with ideas/

  4. scott says:

    I often enjoy taking my players through their local towns and stores. It can really develop the story and atmosphere. I use a d4 roll + Skill bonus to determine their haggling abilities and then depending on the area and a d10 roll the quality of the product they are purchasing. So worst case scenario they can get completely ripped off or they can find an extremely powerful ring being sold as junk jewelry and everything in between.

    One player got ripped off buying a sword that shattered on it’s first use, he went back to confront the dodgy merchant only to have the entire find the merchant muredered. Lead to a really fun side-quest that saw the player go from anger and thoughts of revenge to him ‘adopting’ the merchants family (mainly 2 children) as they had really struggled and an evil crime boss had taken all their earnings leaving the merchant to rip off travelling adventurers.

    The short of it, shopping isn’t just about getting phat items as Nicholas proved above.


  5. LordVreeg says:

    I generally play all my games the way Yonni describes above.

    I despise the hand-waving versions of cost of living. My players adventure to gain wealth and power, as an end, not a means. While an occasional PC may really enjoy the danger, pain, and threat to life and limb that is adventuring, it breaks any suspension of disbelief that groups adventure for adventuring’s sake.
    Moving up in their guilds, buying property, sponsoring caravans, purshasing fine items, hobnobbing with the power-players in the local ‘Games of Sovereignty’…this is where the real role-playing comes in.

    All three of my groups spend nearly as much down tima as adventure time, and they enjoy it at least as much. Which is how it should be, it’s a fantasy role-playing game, not a fantasy fighting game.

  6. Elderon says:

    This is kind of off topic but has anyone heard anything from Expy Redd lately? Its been awhile and fear the worst. (:-8(»

  7. Elderon says:

    Its kind of off topic but has anyone heard anything from Expy Redd lately its been awhile and I’m starting to fear the worst.

  8. Elderon says:

    Its kind of off topic but has anyone heard anything from Expy Redd lately. Its been awhile and I’m starting to fear the worst.

  9. Elderon "wer arauj ir" Analas says:

    I like shopping its a fun way for me to get to know the locals while I’m in my human for for the time being that I’m in a town.

    I remember one night when I was almost robbed though. I put quite a fright into that guy, then who was robbing who? Needless to say I got a thousand gold and I had fun.

  10. Elderon says:


    could you tell me your e-mail not your personal but the one you use here. If it’s just scott@dungeonmastering.com then could you confirm that for me?

  11. Scott says:

    Hey Elderon,

    Whitdnd@hotmail.com is probably the best e-mail to reach me on.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] Shopping Spree! Ever had a full game session eaten by the PCs shopping with their new found wealth? Yeah, me too. As a player, I get my shopping done fast and out of the way and then I wait for the rest of the players to finish off their stuff. As a GM, I tend to sit back and make notes and plans while answering minor questions such as, “Is X magic item available?” It’s all fairly easy. It’s also fairly boring and tedious. Ho hum. Perhaps there is a better way to do it. Check out what Nicholas has to say on the matter. […]

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