Running Markets and Shops in D&D 5e

Featured image for running D&D 5e markets and shops based on reference photo from Ralf Heuls, CC License.
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Reflecting on my experience as a Dungeon Master, I’ve learned that if you give players the option to shop around in a town, there will be at least one player who wants an extensive list of what’s in stock across the entire market, and browsing will consume a large portion of the session. While enjoying the shopping experience as a player isn’t inherently bad, it can be a nuisance, especially in a short session or a one-shot. Other players may disengage until something of interest is discovered. 

To mitigate time consumption and a poor group experience, I believe shopping should be strategic, world-building, and should progress the campaign while rewarding players for their deeds. In this article, I’ll explain what I mean, as well as provide example shops that can be implemented in towns and villages based on the criteria outlined below. Of course, none of my advice here is one-size-fits-all, but I hope to provide material that allows Dungeon Masters to thoughtfully and quickly assemble unique shops.

I’d love to read comments from players and Dungeon Masters who have experienced great and terrible shopping in their Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Cast Message in the comments below!

Guidelines for Creating Shops

One enjoyable aspect of traveling in-game is discovering new locations and what treasures are held within. While it’s highly tempting to provide a bulleted list of items players could de facto find in any given town, this approach may break immersion from the fantasy setting and allow players to exploit a Dungeon Master’s generosity.  

On the other extreme of the spectrum, spellcasters who require pricey spell components will become frustrated if the spells they choose are useless because they lack the materials, which they can’t find in a market. However, this problem can be addressed by rewarding spellcasters with important components from encounters and loot they’ve discovered or sought (which is a great opportunity to reliably reward spellcasters).

Note: One alternative to the shopping experience is enabling players to craft magic items. I’ve written extensively on this topic, including providing several formulas for magic items. Check out these articles next!

Here are tips for strategically streamlining the shopping experience:

Request Player Wish Lists

A general rule I like to follow is having players keep a wish list of items and components they intend to acquire. This can be on a shared spreadsheet, in an email chain, or on their character sheets, but it always needs to be accessible to the Dungeon Master for integration into the campaign. The wish list can involve general concepts or named items. Players also need to be wary of the amount of gold or worth of assets they carry so that they can buy, barter, or steal when items are available.

With this rule in mind, Dungeon Masters can bypass the “browsing” aspect of shopping and describe exactly where players can find items of interest where appropriate. However, an item should only be found in a location where it makes sense to have it stocked.

When a Dungeon Master wishes to allow the players to obtain a desired item, they could describe the shop similar to this:

“Your eyes wander over trinkets, pots, tools, and basic provisions, until a light glimmering off metal catches your eye. You spot a Forked Metal Rod, such as one used in the spell Plane Shift. Based on the fine ornamental design and polished state, you think it would be worth at least 250 gp.”

Thoughtfully Develop Your Shop

In addition to providing a list, if players still want to browse available items in a location, a Dungeon Master can create a social encounter that provides world-building details and experiences. 

When developing markets within a given location, consider the following questions:

  • Would this location have access to high-magic items?
  • Is this location secluded and cut off from major trade?
  • Does this location have an avenue for receiving niche exotic items?
  • Based on geography and environment, what production could this location specialize in?
  • What sort of artisan masters might exist in this location (blacksmith, woodworker, artificer, jeweler, etc)?

Remember that Guilds, nobles, and royalty regulate trade, and players can be directed to these sources to learn more about what’s for sale.

To help illustrate the point of these questions, read the following scenarios:

Players visit a cloistered fortified settlement that doesn’t deal in much trading, as they are far from any large city. However, the settlement specializes in iron crafting, as it is built against the backdrop of a large mountainside rich with resources. 

In this location, players may find unique iron-based weapons and gear, including a metal and stone lockbox required for Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything’s spell Summon Construct. High-magic items could come from an Artificer who settled in the village, but players would have to patiently wait for the Artificer to craft the item or buy what’s on hand. Though the settlement may possess coveted basic provisions, specific items may either be unavailable or cost 2-3x more than expected. Items made from iron will be readily available, and gems might be easier to come by, or players could hire a guide into the mountain to extract their own. 

Players trek to an arctic native village on the edge of a portal to the Feywild. The locals regularly trade with frontiersmen for unique creature pelts/components and specialize in wild magic items.

While magic items may be more common here, players might not be able to find uncommon or common magic items they might expect, as the selection will be limited based on the tastes of the locals. As indigenous magic intermingles with fey magic, unique items and spell scrolls may be discovered here. It would be unlikely to find precious components here like gems, and players will likely find weapons fit for arctic life, but unfit for the world without.

Upon entering the epicenter of a large citadel devoted to an ancient deity, players can find gear and items centered around rituals and faith, such as incense, chalk, ink, vials, holy water, healing potions, religious artisan tools, and select instruments.

In a larger location that is as niche as this, basic provisions should be easy to come by, but items such as weapons and armor may be unavailable for purchase depending on how peace-oriented the religion is. Magic items could be sold by priests, such as the Clerics of Boccob who sell magic items or formulas they have crafted to turn a profit. Trading and buying may also be difficult if the seller does not think their deity would wish the player to have the item based on their stringent judgment.

Using context from the campaign, I recommend Dungeon Masters create shops based on the geographical location, political circumstances, and access to raw materials and trade.

Buying Magic Items

While these ideas are catered more toward buying mundane items, I’ll briefly touch buying magic items. In the Dungeon Master’s Guide, page 135, in reference to buying Magic Items, it states: “Unless you decide your campaign works otherwise, most magic items are so rare that they aren’t available for purchase.” However, Common magic items like potions can be purchased from local herbalists, artificers, or magic users who create and sell magic items. Religious-adjacent magic items may be bought at temples, and magic items of academic significance might be bought at magic schools. 

However, according to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything page 126, buying a magic item takes time and resources: “Finding magic items to purchase requires at least one workweek of effort and 100 gp in expenses,” with more time spent resulting in a greater quality item. After spending at least one workweek (5 days per week, 8 hours per day) and 100 gp seeking sellers, a player will roll a Persuasion check against the following table. Players gain a +1 modifier for each workweek or 100 gp extra they spend finding sellers. Dungeon Masters will then determine which magic items have been found for sale (which items are for sale can be overridden by the Dungeon Master, of course).

Table for Buying Magic Items (Persuasion Check)

(Magic Item Tables can be found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, pages 144-149.)

Check Total Items Acquired
1–5 Roll 1d6 times on Magic Item Table A.
6–10 Roll 1d4 times on Magic Item Table B.
11–15 Roll 1d4 times on Magic Item Table C.
16–20 Roll 1d4 times on Magic Item Table D.
21–25 Roll 1d4 times on Magic Item Table E.
26–30 Roll 1d4 times on Magic Item Table F.
31–35 Roll 1d4 times on Magic Item Table G.
36–40 Roll 1d4 times on Magic Item Table H.
41+ Roll 1d4 times on Magic Item Table I.

Magic Item Price

Prices are halved for consumable items like a potion or scroll.

Rarity Asking Price
Common (1d6 + 1) x 10 gp
Uncommon 1d6 x 100 gp
Rare 2d10 x 1,000 gp
Very Rare (1d4 + 1) x 10,000 gp
Legendary 2d6 x 25,000 gp

Magic Item Purchase Complications

Because magic items may be a riskier purchase than mundane equipment, Dungeon Masters could add complications to the buying process.

d12 Complication
1 The item is a fake, planted by an enemy.
2 The item is stolen by the party’s enemies.
3 The item is cursed by a god.
4 The item’s original owner will kill to relcaim it; the party’s enemies spread news of its sale.
5 The item is at the center of a dark prophecy.
6 The seller is murdered before the sale.
7 The seller is a devil looking to make a bargain.
8 The item is the key to freeing an evil entity.
9 A third party bids on the item, doubling the price.
10 The item is an enslaved, intelligent entity.
11 The item is tied to a cult.
12 The party’s enemies spread rumors that the item is an artifact of evil.

Roleplaying the Market

While players browse a market, they will have to encounter non-player characters who run the shops. Because it would be time-consuming and tedious to fully roleplay the “browsing” experience of shopping, I recommend establishing background shopkeepers who are available for questions and provide a little color to the experience. Encountering the people of a town provides immersion and allows player characters to form emotional connections to the world around them. 

Dungeon Masters can also integrate characters into the shopping experience that point the party toward the story. As interested as a player character might be in interacting with the locals, an ordinary shopkeeper may have the wherewithal to maintain professionalism despite an acute interest in the warriors and heroes in the party. 

Nevertheless, nosey shopkeepers who overhear bouts of conversation may provide clues and context to the missions at hand, or even set the adventurers on a quest. NPC’s who see the party as kind, brave heroes might ask for help in their town’s problems or expose rumors running through the village. This might even be a way to convince players to cut their shopping short, eager to chomp at the new challenge.

Encountering the Black Market

Depending on what players might be interested in acquiring, players could be convinced to seek the Black Market. Through a shopkeeper who knows, for a fee, where to find an item, or from a player character who might have contacts in the less-than-lawful corners of town, Black Markets are an exciting way to combine action with shopping.

Never let players forget the dangers of engaging with the Black Market. Getting caught, swindled, or attacked should be at the forefront of their experience. This can also help build out world-building and the story, as they hear conversations in the dangerous parts of town about their missions.

The Black Market is also a great way to utilize character backgrounds. Characters who have criminal contacts, a knavish guild, or a web of political secrets may find it easier to discover and navigate the dodgier parts of the shopping experience in the Black Market.

The table for Magic Item Purchase Complications above from XGTE may also serve a Dungeon Master well when planning a Black Market encounter!

Example Shops

We’ve come to the end of my advice for the shopping experience in Dungeons and Dragons, but the article is far from over! In the spreadsheet below are example shops that Dungeon Masters can implement that utilize the advice above. 

Based on the geographical availability of resources and what sorts of trade might occur in a town, each shop in the document has a description, example items, and alternative solutions to shopping woes. Download your copy of the Market List for free!

For other reference, here is a table of commonly exchanged goods from SRD:

Cost Goods
1 cp 1 lb. of wheat
2 cp 1 lb. of flour or one chicken
5 cp 1 lb. of salt
1 sp 1 lb. of iron or 1 sq. yd. of canvas
5 sp 1 lb. of copper or 1 sq. yd. of cotton cloth
1 gp 1 lb. of ginger or one goat
2 gp 1 lb. of cinnamon or pepper, or one sheep
3 gp 1 lb. of cloves or one pig
5 gp 1 lb. of silver or 1 sq. yd. of linen
10 gp 1 sq. yd. of silk or one cow
15 gp 1 lb. of saffron or one ox
50 gp 1 lb. of gold
500 gp 1 lb. of platinum

Additional Resources

Enhanced spellcasting components: Rather than providing basic spellcasting components, spice up your shop by selling enhanced components!

Homebrew alternative materials for expensive spells if it means you can maintain your world’s verisimilitude while rewarding spellcasters.

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