Thursday, November 24, 2011

Players just want to go shopping

This is kind of the bane of a lot of dungeon master's experiences, but one that we need to accommodate because it's what a lot of players want.

A lot of the time, players just want to go shopping.

They don't care about your story, or the quest/adventure at hand (even if it's a dire situation), they just want to spend gold on magic swords.

Here's an example from the first session of Beyond the Crystal Cave, held at Dueling Grounds this past Wednesday:

The adventure starts out in the city of Sybar, where the characters have been gathered up to go on a paying diplomatic job from the Count of Sybar. The Count greets them, explains the situation, and then gives the party 50 pieces of gold in good faith that they'll go on this particular quest.

While I thought I'd given the party ample motivation to get started, the younger players at the table just wanted to buy stuff with their new gold. Specifically, one of them wanted a special kind of helmet, as well as a rapier, instead of the short sword provided to him.

SIDENOTE: Mechanically, in 4e rules, a rapier is a 1d8 martial weapon, with a +3 proficiency bonus. Problem is, it's also listed as a Superior Melee Weapon, which requires Superior Weapon Proficiency as a combat feat (which the PC didn't have) in order to use effectively. From the sounds of it, the player just wanted a rapier because "rapiers are cool!". I'll get into stuff like this later.

As a dungeon master, I've got a number of options with how to deal with this kind of player request:

1) Allow the player to just add said equipment and subtract its worth in gold from his sheet.

2) Describe an entire "shopping" moment in the game, allowing the party to purchase stuff, while maintaining the "roleplaying" emphasis of the game.

3) Tell the player to suck it up and wait.

All of these are valid solutions to a player request (some more valid than others). I chose option 3. This perhaps wasn't the best choice, but this is also a public play event (with a set time limit) and the encounter itself is already a long one. I chose the option that saved us all the most time. The player in question grumbled and moaned a bit, but allowed the story to progress.

Shortly after, the players continued on their mission. They were headed to a small town called Crystalbrook, investigating the disappearance of a young man and a young woman. Upon arrival, the town was being attacked by Xivorts (some bullshit fey-monster equivalent of goblins with blue-skin). People were being attacked, stabbed, and dragged away in nets.

While most of the party wanted to spring in to help the people, the same two were more concerned with whether the shops were open. Even in the face of danger, they wanted to buy stuff.

After the combat encounter, with NPCs dying in the streets, these players were still adamant that they wanted to shop. They asked if stores were open ("In the heat of the moment, shopkeepers in town are too preoccupied with collecting and aiding the wounded than selling their wares" I explained), and then wanted to know if they could steal a rapier from a nearby stand ("Unfortunately, a town of this size doesn't sell such exotic find nothing like the weapon you've described" I said). They were determined.

The encounter finally wrapped up, with the PCs starting out towards a cave where they think the two youths might have been taken, but I left exhausted and frustrated.

I felt like I'd spent the whole game being badgered by players obsessing over acquiring items. Items that, according to the rules, don't even provide any particular significant bonus or combat superiority. Everything in the game seemed to take a back seat to these players, who just really wanted to pimp out their characters with specific stuff.

I left the table, a grown man, feeling like he'd had to put up with the inane requests of children.

In these player's defense, they were, like, thirteen years old or something.

Still, this is but one example of something that happens all the time in D&D games. It's not a problem or a hindrance, but it is a legitimate issue.

A lot of times, a DM will present a story, or a quest, or even just a plot thread for the players to follow. Said players will ignore the call to action, and instead want to shop. Often for something very specific and usually rare (and almost always, from a DM perspective, absolutely trivial).

Players just want to go shopping.

For a DM, it's irksome, it's irritating, it's time wasting, and it's utterly boring.

But it's also a legitimate part of the D&D experience. I mean, what's the point of awarding characters with gold if there isn't an economy they can participate in and spend said gold? Players should be able to buy whatever they like, provided they have the money. In fact, the game is built around a mechanical expectation of having magical items down the road. If they don't stumble onto them in game, the only other option is to buy them.

Plus, like in the real world, I imagine that buying stuff (from a player's point of view) just feels good. Owning something, then ascribing meaning and importance to it, is a process that feels good. I don't think it matters much that the items in question (and the gold, for that matter) don't really exist. They're still important to the players, or at the very least, the characters.

So, upon reflection, I might not have handled the situation in the best way. The player was young and clearly excited about the prospect of owning a rapier, using it in battle, and feeling all awesome and heroic with the sword of his choice. I remember feeling that way about my character's possessions back when I played the game in high school. Perhaps I should have just let the baby have his bottle and be done with it.

So, if you're starting out as a DM or a Player, perhaps keep the following things in mind next time your party "wants to go buy some stuff":

For Dungeon Masters

-Set aside time in each game session to shop.

-Buying items doesn't mean that the role playing has to stop.

-When in doubt, if your players are currently in a town, just let them buy what they like, provided they have the money. It's paperwork for them, not you.

-Remember the "Say Yes" mantra of being a DM.

-Don't be a dick.

For Players

-Be patient with your DM; if the adventure's pre-written, your shopping escapade might not be allowed.

-Not every town or city will have the items you want (this isn't a video game).

-Unless you're out of the bare essentials, your character can survive without that one item you really want.

-Understand that, mechanically, not all weapons/items will make sense for your class/race.

-Know when to let something go. If you go out of your way to just go after something you want, you do it at the cost of the rest of the player's time and enjoyment.

-Don't be a dick.

Also, if your players are determined to spend about 15-20 minutes of the game devoted to shopping around, refusing to break character, here's a quick d10 table to spice up their shopping experience.

d10 Random Sales, Markups, and Items Table:

1. Iron/Steel shortage, melee weapons cost double.
2. Iron/Steel surplus, melee weapons half off.
3. Delivery missing, no ranged weapons available.
4. Delivery missing, no potions available.
5. Elves guarding forest borders, potions cost double.
6. New brewer in town, every PC gets a free healing potion.
7. Blacksmith's son inherits smithy, armor half off.
8. Blacksmith's daughter inherits smithy, armor costs double.
9. Old shop keep succumbs to madness, attacks PCs who enter shop. Shop keep = lvl 7 wizard.
10. Old shop keep succumbs to madness, first PC he sees gets a free item of their choice (roll numbered dice per number in party).

There. Keep all that in mind, and happy shopping to you all.

Hey! Just in time for Black Friday! S'cuse me, I've got to go bludgeon a soccer mom to death to get at $30 Zelda games.

1 comment:

  1. I actually just had the opposite experience the other day. I was playing in a friend's brand new campaign. We had just escaped a pirate ship we had woken up on and caught a ride with a military boat back to land.

    Once we got there it was as if my friend was requiring us to shop.

    And it sucked.

    He just kept telling us there were all kinds of shops and we could pretty much find anything. We had just started play however and were pretty decked out.

    I couldn't believe how hard it was to find the adventure past all the shopping. No matter where we turned we couldn't find it. It's not like this was the Elemental Plane of Shopping either, just a dingy medieval town with a lot of racist elves.

    He's the type of guy who thinks its really cool to come up with history of the mead your drinking and roleplay haggling prices so I guess that had something to do with it. It's a fine way to play, not really my style but I can do it in moderation.

    I was just more interested in hunting down monsters at the time.