A few months ago, I received an email from William Pfaff, owner of Escape Velocity Gaming. He was nice enough to include a PDF attachment of one of his products: City Slices I – Marketplace Fun. Presumably his kindness was in response to my shameless begging for donations. Let me say publicly that it was greatly appreciated, and I am terribly sorry that it has taken me so long to acknowledge his donation. Thank you!

To everyone else, let me say that it is a wonderful product that I would highly recommend for any edition of any fantasy role playing game!

The product has a tagline that reads: “30 encounters, vendors, stalls, and challenges for 4e”. Don’t let that last bit throw you. It is most definitely NOT specific to 4e. The vast majority of the content will cross editions without any need for conversion. There are some skill challenges that may use skills not used (or known by different names) that may require a very minor modification. Other than that, you should be able to use the product, as is, regardless as to what you are playing.

Skill Challenges

I mentioned skill challenges, so let’s start there… In general, don’t like skill challenges. Not because I don’t like the mechanic, but because most people create them so poorly, making them feel overly contrived.

Escape Velocity Gaming did a wonderful job of laying out skill challenges that are reasonable, believable, and work well. In my game, players do not roll skill checks. Instead, they describe their actions and I roll their skill checks secretly, then telling them whether or not they succeeded. Therefore, they aren’t even aware that they are involved in a skill challenge.

There are a half-dozen skill challenges included that are brief, non-combat encounters that occur in and around the marketplace. They can be completely isolated events, or they may be used as an opportunity for the adventurers to accrue some notoriety, either with the populous as a whole or with powerful individuals.

Simple Encounters

When the adventurers travel through town, they don’t just go about their business unnoticed. Nor is every trip to the grocer uneventful. This product is an excellent example of the sorts of things that can happen to, or go on around, the adventurers as they go about their business while they are in town.

There are five short encounters, that also may be used on their own or as a hook into a larger adventure. One even includes an ingenious gambling game, that players can engage in outside the encounter.

Food Vendors

Every town needs food vendors. A list of food available in taverns is usually boring and the same wherever you go. Marketplace Fun adds a number of food vendors with new and different foods that add some flavor. Aside from the standard fare, you now have at your disposal a handful of street vendors calling out their wares as adventurers walk by.

More importantly, these wandering street vendors are eyes and ears that travel all over the city. What they see and hear, and what they gather from their contacts, enable them to provide adventurers with all sorts of information. Their unique position allows them to watch the movements of various people and keep their fingers on the pulse of the city.

Market Stalls

In addition to the more transitory food vendors, the regular market stalls carry unique and unusual goods that you won’t find in the general store. Not only do they sell specialty items, they may be interested in purchasing exotic goods or hiring individuals to acquire these items for them.

Just like food vendors, those that operate stalls in the market are an excellent source of information. They all make useful contacts, either now or down the road. Adventurers never know when they’ll need someone who has their back.

Spicing Up Your Game

Shortly before receiving this product, I was already considering what else I could do to interest my players in increasing their interaction with town NPCs. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but my players like to simply walk in the front gate and divvy up treasure before heading home. Understandable. Then, at the start of the next session, they want to get away with simply saying “I’m buying this and this” and then head out the gate. Also, understandable.

It’s hard to entice them into anything, when they are trying to pack up their books and head home. That leaves the beginning of the evening as the best time to interest them in something different. That’s where this product comes in.

Marketplace Fun is an ideal example of how to engage your players in some in-town interactions. What is included is well-designed and works out of the box. There are no large-scale, epic quests that make the players feel railroaded. Instead, everything is low-key and generally are isolated events. However, most of them can easily be used as a hook for something larger. Most importantly, it shows you how to create these sorts of NPCs and simple, believable encounters. You can then create your own to flesh out your towns.

I’ve tried many techniques to engage my players in town, with little success. I think most of my failures in that regard stem from me trying to go too big. What is presented here is low-key and I think that approach will go over more easily.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve gone out of my way not to go into specifics. After all, if I tell you everything, what incentive do you have to buy it? But it is definitely worth buying. I have garnered a number of great ideas that I haven’t mentioned. I’m sure you will too.

Thanks again to William for sending it to me!