Monday, October 17, 2011

Sharpened Hooks: The Terrible Old Man

Deep in the heart of the Black Moor swamp lies a decrepit hut.  The bandits who sometimes lair in the dangerous marsh will even give this place a wide berth, for in that hovel resides the Terrible Old Man.

There are lots of stories about him.  Some claim that he is simply an old man.  Others claim he is a retired adventurer of unknown profession (some even claim that his tangled mass of hair hides the horns of the supposedly dead Baarziduul the Valorous, making him not a man at all, but a tiefling).  Some claim that all realms have a Terrible Old Man, and that he is merely one incarnation.  Still others claim he is not mortal at all, but the seemingly benign avatar of some cruel god from a distant realm.

Whatever the case, few make the trek to visit the Terrible Old Man, but he actually runs a shop from his hovel.  As with Lovecraft's Terrible Old Man, it is obvious that he has some unknown source of immense wealth, because he is always well-equipped.  It is even possible that his hut is attached to an extradimensional space, having many more rooms than the outside would otherwise suggest.

Whatever the case, the Terrible Old Man will sell supplies to travelers.  However, that is not the true draw to the Terrible Old Man's hovel; he will also sell magic items to travelers.  These items are always of excellent quality, and are sold at reduced price.

However, there is a price to be paid.  Most of the items he sells are cursed.

I haven't decided on precise numbers.  Given the fact that cursed items in 4e are much easier to fix than in other editions (it just requires an hour and a successful Arcana check, although there is no way to determine an item is cursed before it is used, so there will be at least one encounter with a cursed item's burden), I'm not inclined to drop the price too low.  I was considering making magic items cost 50% of their typical price, but having a 70% chance of being cursed.  In settings or systems where curses are harder to remove, it might be reasonable to drop the price even further.

Note, however, that the Arcana check is just one way to break 4e curses; it is also possible that individual items have specific triggers.  In that case, the Terrible Old Man's bargain is a little more horrible; any cursed items acquired in this way become puzzles to be overcome, as the PCs must try different things or research the item in question before breaking its curse.

As usual, any of this stuff is open to individual Game Masters to alter as they see fit.  Messing with the numbers is key, and probably something that needs to be customized for individual campaigns.

Also note that I thought of this for D&D, but a guy selling Schmuck Bait is basically systemless, isn't it?

Edit: Also, in case there was any doubt, the fact that most of this man's items are cursed is known to the PCs.  This isn't a trick so much as an enticement — yes, most of his items are cursed, but you heard from your cousin's sister's boyfriend's niece bought functional bracers of armor there!

At that point, it's less of a trick and more of an experiment: how low must the price be to convince somebody that it's worth the risk.  For that matter, how difficult is it to remove a curse, anyway?

All these things factor into the accounting.

1 comment:

  1. I like this. A good mixture of mysterious and fuck with the players. :)


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