Monday, September 17, 2012

Bartering Gear

This is for R, thanks for the request.  My first real edition was 1e AD&D, and in it Gygax compares adventuring equipment prices to those of the Gold Rush days.  It always made sense to me that there would be merchants offering as many torches and bundles of rope as you needed but at a steep price inflation.

But bartering could be an interesting proposition.  I think most barter systems are one step away from using a currency; if you're trading chickens for swords it will eventually be easier to standardize on the value of things in chickens or swords.  But standardizing implies authority and enforcement and some places might be far from civilization.

So bartering could give a nice flavor of either being in a post apocalyptic world where there is no government and what is dredged from the wreckage of the former world is always unexpected and hard to put values on, or the savage frontier where merchant houses and authorities are far from the trading post.

Bartering could just be handled by roleplaying out each encounter with a merchant.  I usually do just this, rolling reaction rolls to determine if they have requested items or not, and how much they will ask for them.

But that doesn't help the busy DM much and it doesn't give the players a sense of a teeming market place.  So, can we come up with a mini-game to help?

After thinking about it, I think a dice drop chart of the most common gear would work.  Take a sheet of paper and split it up into sections for each piece of gear.  Cheaper, more common items can have bigger sections. 
Orange will give sacks for torches or spikes, sounds like a crappy deal.  How do you like my ghetto office dice?
Drop a d4 and a d6.  Read the d6 as a d2, 1-3=1, 4-6=2.  The d2 is what the merchant is willing to give, the d4 what they want.  If you pair up d4s and d2s of the same color and have three or four sets of different colors, you can let each color represent a particular merchant.  Throw all the dice at once.

Let the players look at the market.  It should sometimes be possible to identify strings of possible trades: this guy has an excess of rope, this guy over here needs it, etc.  Players with exceptional Charisma can shift the numbers on one of the dice for each merchant up or down one.  You can roleplay out the rest.



  1. I do a sort of mix. My players can go to a shop like an armory and know what to expect, and buy it for normal equipment prices up or down a bit (my largest city has instituted an adventurer's tax to compensate for their lack of contribution to the more traditional economy.)
    But when selling items, my players usually have to trade or barter to pawn off things like old weapons and armor since these are beaten and harder to price.
    This allows my players to grab what equipment they need before a big dungeon relatively quickly so they can get to the part they are looking forward to, and then slows down the game after a big dungeon, usually at the end of the game, while some of them sell their treasure and the others get to talk about the dungeon and cool down for the evening.

    1. Except here:
      there they never know what they'll find or what to pay/trade for it

  2. Thanks. The time factor is definitely an issue. I'll usually start brand new groups with all the gear they'll need to skip right into the adventure. But selling goods is one sure way to tie a party back to local communities, let them grow connections to npcs, let them find adventure hooks.

    Maybe a mini-game will make shopping less boring and still allow for those.