Shopping in the Past

edited December 2010 in Play Advice
I teach an after-school D&D class to a bunch of elementary-school children. This is great fun, and constantly provides me with fresh insight on gaming.

Some time ago, the PCs arrived to a town for the first time. Being low on supplies, they decided to go shopping. Since they started out with pregens, they never got to choose their own equipment out of a list - only to pick their share of the loot. As you might imagine, their first time going over the equipment lists was a time of great excitement. They got to pick cool swag to customize their characters like they wanted to, and make plans for what to purchase when they find the next treasure.

When I watched them going on a shopping spree, it struck me that they were acting like modern consumers in a shopping mall: buying stuff in order to define yourself is what Consumer Culture is all about (this is not a value judgment; I don't consider it necessarily a bad thing).
I also realized that in the games I participated in, I have never done a proper shopping scene.

I wasn't going to ruin the kids' fun by starting a discussion about different approaches to shopping and its representation, but I am going to try and ruin yours. So, how do you handle shopping in historical or fantasy settings? Is it any different than your modern, real-life shopping experience?


  • IMO shopping is boring. If we play games where such resource management matters I expect the players to get it out of the way during down time.

    IF there is a plot element in the procurement we might play it out. But otherwise the fighter just has new armour in the next scene.
  • The one time I played D&D with my wife, buying equipment was her favorite part. That was a surprise to me and helped me re-assess my own assumptions.
  • yeah equipment is interesting, many people love it, others kind of hate it. I got burnt out on equipment after playing with my group of materialistic friends who would spend hours simply trying to scam items. i found it to be so boring i actually made a character who would constantly play on his futuristic portable gaming device just so i could play my DS in character while they once again tried to sneak into another armory.

    my background with miniatures and board games means the item lists and effects in most rpgs bore me to tears, their effects are almost always super lame from a balance and interesting play point of view.
  • You know, buying things to define yourself isn't entirely out-of-place in medieval settings. This is the era when people built huge castle-like houses, not just for defense, but to impress others with their power.

    Similar things happened with weapons and armour. Buying plate mail wouldn't just be about combat. You'd be saying: look, I am wearing fucking plate mail because I am a fucking good fighter. (Again, this is the era when people would display suits of armour in their houses.)

    The last time we played AD&D, I played a beggar who was uncomfortable with having money. So he'd go to the market stalls and buy all kinds of rubbish (bolts of cloth, animals), just so he wouldn't have money any more.
  • I only find "shopping scenes" fun now when there's some constraint on availability, a time limit, or some kind of adversarial quality to making the trip. Tough Decisions and Risks. Otherwise, do it in downtime.
  • I liked the shopping experience in my AD&D days, due to the fact that it let me see what "normal" was in the given town... Like, if the people were suspicious or jovial or stingy or generous or what.

    This was a long time ago. In highschool, we didn't know that the past wasn't really like the present... you know? And so yeah, it was pretty much choose-what-you-want-off-the-shelf, and if the shop didn't have something that you wanted, it felt like the DM was screwing me around.

    A little after that, we got into one-on-one "survival fiction" games of AD&D, wherein the solo protagonist had to creatively make due with very few items (I remember killing goblins with my bare hands... "Nope, they're not armed, either." Fuck! nothing to steal!), while having a sort-of protagonist immunity or something, that my character would undergo hella hardship, but never die. And that was fun.

    And in my first games, i just picked up everything. I had an inventory that was pages long. I had a gigantic backpack and we didn't do encumbrance; besides, it was mostly little stuff like books of elven poetry and rag dolls and stubs of candles and so on. Rocks. Sticks. Kind of weird, in retrospect. Not really shopping, but defining my character as their ability to collect fictional objects.
  • I like equipment, but hate shopping.

    By which I mean that it's still pretty fun to have a long list of cool equipment, to think about what my character would want, to save up the resources to get it, to describe what it looks like...all that stuff. I don't think that should be in every game, mind you, but it's perfect for some.

    But it was never, ever fun to do shopping in-character. That shit's boring in real life, and it's only made worse when you have to sit through five or six different people all having to have their small talk with the merchant and long, drawn-out haggling sessions. Verisimilitude MY ASS, this isn't worth fifteen minutes of our valuable gaming time, let alone a whole fuckin' hour of it. I'm much happier handling all of that out of character and getting back to the part of the game where our characters are doing interesting things.
  • Alon, does your chosen version of D&D have any leveling-up choices? New feats, powers, etc? Do the kids go for leveling up like they go for gearing up?

    I ask this because according to Robin Laws, RPG books are really just nerd shopping catalogs.
  • I neglected to mention that shopping wasn't done in character. The GM said something like "you enter the town's tradehouse. Here's what you can buy. It's a poor town, so they don't have anything that costs over 20gp". He then put the equipment lists on the table and read it aloud for the smaller children. They chose stuff based on how cool it sounded, or how cool the illustration was, and were less interested in stuff related to game mechanics.

    So the shopping scene did not involve characters going from shop to shop for stuff, but rather the players going excitedly over the lists, discussing what's cool and what's not.

    Johnzo: I'm basically using OD&D with a 4th edition shell. Some kids have the 4th edition player handbook with its endless lists of powers, but these certainly don't make an easy read for young children - the Hebrew version is written in nearly-incomprehensible translatorese, and - like most books not aimed directly at children - without diacritics. What's worse, the Hebrew names for the powers are absolutely uninspiring. So in that respect, the shopping lists are blocked or plain uninteresting for most children. When levelling up, I usually present them with 2-3 choices - something along the line of choosing between a healing power or a fighting move. They are definitely excited about getting new powers, but there is no shopping quality involved.

    Graham: Defining yourself by stuff you own is different from defining yourself based on stuff you buy. You don't go to the market district and look for a plate mail by master smith Gerhard to prove what a badass you are; instead, you go to master smith Gerhard and ask him to make you a huge plate mail with skull-shaped spikes, because that's how badass you are. You don't buy your castle - you get people to design and build it for you. What happened with the shopping scene was different: it was "ooh, a bastard sword, I want one of those", and not "I want an extra-long sword, on a pole, because that would fit the fighting style I want to develop".
  • Posted By: elkinThey chose stuff based on how cool it sounded, or how cool the illustration was, and were less interested in stuff related to game mechanics.

    So the shopping scene did not involve characters going from shop to shop for stuff, but rather the players going excitedly over the lists, discussing what's cool and what's not.
    This is why shopping in RPGs is good and not bad, forever.
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