A while ago, I happened past one of those old little stores that’s tucked away in an odd little spot and which seems to sell… something? Nothing? I always find these stores so mysterious. Who’s behind it all? How do they stay in business? Clearly inspiration for an RPG encounter.
- The shop exists on a spot of land that neither Baroness Karoia nor Lady Temereth want. If either claims the spot of land, that will imply they have given up their claim to the valuable Golden Highlands, so the shop is effectively free of any laws. But the spot of land isn’t big enough for anything but the curio shop itself; and the proprietor has subtle yet powerful defenses in place against anyone who would displace the shop.
- The main store sells pottery. The curio shop proper is in the cellar, and can only be accessed by going through the pottery store. The pottery store owner is required by some arcane historical precedent to allow the curio shop to continue taking up the cellar, but the pottery store owner still likes to pile up pots on the cellar stairs, leave wet slip uncleaned in front of the stairs, etc. Just getting from the pottery store to the curio shop is a hazardous adventure of its own.
- Ask the proprietor how the shop stays in business, and the answer always seems to involve a lot of clearing of the throat, talking into the sleeve, and mystic phrases such as “optimizing synergy to proactively utilize impacts going forward.”
- An ancient compact requires the town to give “seven bundles of fine garlic” to the Countess every year on Kamas’ Day; to lay rose petals at the foot of the Gotherian Guard “whensoever they visit the town in friendship”; and to maintain a store selling “what items may please the Grand Regent” within the Upper Flats district.
- The shop’s wares are mundane in the extreme: a bowl of different pieces of pocket lint; a handful of broken, blunted writing quills; a small bag full of burnt wood shavings; etc. And the proprietor expresses interest in a bit of string stuck to a PC’s sleeve. “This is surely the most exquisite example of its kind that ever I have seen!”
- The shop appears at first to sell chess lessons. But if you know the right code word, the proprietor reveals that they actually make the third-finest rope in the Eastern Realm. But if you buy just the right quantity of rope, the proprietor will allow you to browse the exclusive catalog of dragon scales. But if you go to page 232, then page 131, then page 232 again, the proprietor reveals that…
- The shop’s hours are erratic in the extreme. It seems to require a new moon with the wind coming from the east on a day when the Queen is visiting her estate in the Far Hills and the Feast of Lorios was three days ago before the owner actually opens the shop. Or maybe it’s three days until the Feast of Lorios?
- Nearby residents all have different theories on what the shop actually sells. Some say it’s just a greengrocer’s, but a spectacularly unsuccessful one. Some purport to have heard stringed instruments being played, or perhaps tested, late at night. Some think it’s a spy ring. Everyone seems to know someone who has seen the shop open, but has never personally gone inside.
- There are many interesting objects, but none of them actually seem to be for sale. This object is already promised to someone who came by just the other day; that object was collected by the proprietor themself in their adventuring days, and it’s too precious a memory to part with; this item shouldn’t actually have been on display, sorry…
- The proprietor talks down every object in the store. “Yes, it’s several hundred years old, but I know someone across town has one that’s at least a thousand years old…” “Oh, I don’t think the scribe who wrote that actually knew the language; the little bit I could read was completely ungrammatical…” “It’s supposed to be a very powerful potion, but I happen to know the brewer used ingredients that aren’t fresh…”
- Every item is non-functioning. The potion got uncorked somehow, and is now all dried up; the key to the lockbox went missing a few years ago; the amphora is sealed, and no one knows what’s inside…
- The proprietor calls the shop a ‘museum’, and will happily explain the provenance of every item, what it’s made of, how much it’s worth, etc., but has no interest in selling anything. Even though another NPC walks in the door while the PCs are there, gives the proprietor a bag of what sounds like money, and very plainly walks out with one of the items the PCs were interested in.
Lol! This reminds me of a rug store I used to work near. The parking lot was always empty, and it was run by Eastern European guys with absolutely zero interest in selling rugs. No sure what they actually did for money, but I strongly suspect it had little to do with rugs.
“Would you like to buy a ‘rug’?”
Yeah, I still find these kinds of places bizarre and fascinating in equal measure. And an earlier version of this post had mention of a rug store… Hmm…