Thursday, 2 January 2014

Magical Marketplace

There has been a lot of debate over the years about the ease with which magical items can be bought or made in Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. Some people feel that the existence of magic shops takes away from the wonder and mystery that magic represents, while others feel that, in a world with so much magic (and there’s little denying that D&D/Pathfinder worlds have a lot of magic in them), it makes sense that people would attempt to sell it. It’s just human nature. But whatever any individual’s opinion on it, the default assumption in the game is that characters can buy and sell magic items.

Yet despite this, there hasn’t been much attempt to actually describe what some of these magic stores might be like. Do they specialize in certain kinds of magic items or do they just sell everything? Can you sometimes get special deals, or does everything really always cost the same no matter where you are? The rules for designing cities given in the GameMastery Guide provide some guidelines on the kinds of items (based on value) that can generally be found in a particular settlement, but beyond this, the specifics about buying and selling magic items have generally been glossed over.

That’s what makes Magical Marketplace stand out. At first glance, the book might appear to be just another book of new magic items. With books like Adventurer’s Armory (which is in the same Player Companion line of books) and especially Ultimate Equipment already available, Magical Marketplace might seem superfluous and unnecessary. However, while Magical Marketplace does indeed contain many new items, it does something very different to either of those previous books. Rather than just a list of magic items arranged alphabetically with their descriptions, this book adds colour to something that is often just part of the background (the buying of equipment) by presenting these items as the contents of specific magic stores across the Inner Sea region. Fourteen separate stores each receive two pages of description, from general information on the store’s history and owner, to the types of items sold there, to methods of payment (including ways to get special discounts), and even to new abilities characters can learn from the store’s owner and/or employees. The book provides a creative way to give players lots of new mechanical options while simultaneously allowing GMs to spice up boring shopping expeditions.

As this is a Pathfinder Player Companion book, it does have a lot of mechanical options for player characters, and not just new magic items. This means that the background flavour information is rather brief, generally amounting to about half a page or so. Still, that’s a quarter of the space allotted to each store, and there really doesn’t need to be a lot of background information anyway. After all, these stores are not meant to be the bases of entire campaigns, but rather the descriptions are just meant to help add a bit of colour to something that is otherwise a bit of a mundane task. What’s there provides just enough to help GMs generate ideas and sketch out interesting NPCs.

Two of the things I like best about Magical Marketplace are the options for discounts and “other ways to pay”. While it’s convenient for everything to have a set price that never varies (it makes it easier to keep the game moving and not get bogged down in minutiae), once in a while, it makes for a nice change of pace if some shops have sales or some other shops charge exorbitant prices. Similarly, PCs who regularly shop at the same places might be pleased to receive a reward for their loyalty in the form of lower prices. This is exactly what the discount option in this book provides. Each store starts out charging 120% of the standard prices, but this goes down based on the total amount of money characters have spent at that store. How much money characters need to spend and how much of a discount that earns them depends on the individual store. There isn’t a strict formula for calculating these discounts. This isn’t really a rules subsystem, but rather just arbitrary values based on the personalities of the stores. As such it’s very easy for GMs to come up with similar discounts for stores of their own creation.

In addition to gaining discounts, regular patronage of a store can also unlock boons. These are new abilities that the shop’s owner or employees can teach the PCs. The kinds of abilities run the gamut from new feats to new magus arcana to rogue talents and more. Each individual store offers abilities that suit the theme of that store. For example, PCs who regularly visit Oulur’s Alchemical Wares in Merab, Thuvia can learn new alchemist discoveries from the store’s owner. There is a wide variety of options represented across all fourteen stores, providing material for characters of most classes.

The option for “other ways to pay” does exactly what the name says, providing characters with ways to purchase things by trading other items for store credit, or other ways to gain discounts that aren’t related to how much money PCs have previously spent there. Members of the congregation of Sarenrae in Nerosyan, Mendev, for example, gain an additional 5% off purchases at Dawnflower Goods. Like the discounts and boons, these alternative payment methods are based on the personalities of the stores and their owners, and there is no complex rules subsytem for determining them.

Also included with the description of each store are a number of new items that characters can purchase there. Again, these items all fit the general theme of the store, from nautical magic items at Coltan’s Floating Emporium to magic armour at Berdred’s Armory. As well as the new items, there is also a list of typical items from other sources that one can find at each store.

Of the fourteen stores, twelve of them have fixed locations in various towns and cities across the Inner Sea region. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that GMs have to place them in those locations. It would be quite easy to transplant them to just about any location a GM happens to need them in. The only exception to this might be An Umbral Page, which is a drow-run store in Zirnakaynin. However, even in this case, it would be easy to change the name and/or the owners to quickly create a similar store that could exist somewhere else. Indeed, GMs can easily do this with any of the stores. Two of the stores (Arinna’s Wagon and Coltan’s Floating Emporium) do not have fixed locations. Instead, they move about on trade routes, making it easy for GMs to have them show up wherever needed in the campaign.

Overall, Magical Marketplace is one of the most creative Player Companion volumes in some time. While its overall focus is on new mechanical options for player characters, it presents these new options in a way that’s full of world flavour, and helps to flesh out Golarion in a way that most campaign worlds rarely receive. I heartily recommend this book.

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