You stroll down the cobblestones, a variety of vendors hawking their wares from the broad windows of their shops and stall. It was a fairly busy marketplace, but it was clear to the discerning eye that the assorted shopkeeps and merchants saw each other as a community. No two stalls with similar offerings were close to each other, one vendor would watch a street urchin out of the corner of their eye at their neighbor’s stall, mindful of any light fingers… a pleasant enough corner of the city – not too opulent so as to make the common adventurer feel out of place, but not so seedy as to inspire a tighter than normal grip on one’s purse. Then, next to the dwarven potter’s stall, you spot an oddity.
No-one is outside the establishment beckoning passersby, just a simple wooden storefront, round windows with embroidered curtains masking the interior. A simple wooden sign hangs above the door. No words, just a painted depiction of a golden bowl with flowers floating in it. Curiosity takes you, and you step across the threshold to discover what looks more like a museum than a store, each item displayed individually on cushions and pedestals, in alcoves and display cases. A woman steps through a curtain at the rear of the store, and welcomes you to her humble establishment…
With D&D on my mind, I thought it was time to deal some more cards from SkeletonKey’s Dossier Decks. Creating NPC’s can be a challenge, but it’s amazing what you can do with a little inspiration. The Dossier Decks make it easy – you can see how far my brain rambled in my earlier posts, such as with Barl Moonsblood, professional nap wizard.
We flipped for appearance, traits and a story hook from the Merchants deck for today’s NPC and came up with…
Kesai Hirowata, purveyor of the exquisite.
Kesai’s emporium of exotic artifacts will require a little work on the DM’s part to properly flesh out (unless you’re adept at coming up with backstories for inanimate objects on the fly). Per the Lost Treasures trait, you’re not going to find random knick-knacks and trinkets, but rather historied items with a tale to tell, or perhaps a tale yet to be written. A dozen or so items with a one- or two-sentence legend will probably suffice for the storefront, and any of them could lead to a sidequest, or you could hold a special item behind the curtain to be unveiled if the heroes ask the right questions. Based on her appearance card, it’s entirely possible that Kesai herself is a treasure for those who know what they’re seeking, with her garb and the flowers woven into her hair being a clue to an unspoken lineage.
The Mysic Oasis story hook fits nicely with Kesai’s traits, and suggests that she may have at one point been an adventurer herself. Not everyone just happens to find themselves at a djinn market in the middle of a desert. The “odd baubles” referenced could likely be woven into her appearance – a bracelet or earring, for example – or sequestered in plain sight around the store. That little chime that sounded when you walked through the door to let Kesai know she has customers? A small ceramic bell… that happens to have a dao trapped in its clay, the chimes counting down the years of its imprisonment. The woven runner along the length of a countertop may be embroidered with a long forgotten legend, telling of a brave soldier who dared love a lamia. This oasis marketplace may have been her final adventure, and where she obtained the wares that allowed her to retire from a more dangerous life. Well, semi-retire…
Of particular note is Kesai’s refusal to deal in artifacts associated with the Drow, and her interest in religion. Perhaps in her adventuring days she traveled with Drow and refuses to deal in artifacts from Menzoberranzan out of respect, or perhaps she herself has run afoul of Lolth’s chosen in the past and is desperate to remain off their radar. A little paranoia could have Kesai fearing that having a Drow artifact in her possession could bring her to the attention of dark elf assassins. This could also play into the religious aspect – She’s secretly (and subtly) looking for protection from the dark elves, and hopes that a cleric or paladin will be able to provide her with the security she needs.
Finally, Words Not Actions on her Story Hooks card indicates that she’s seeking to return to the desert oasis at some point. Aside from the chance to procure more goodies, what if when she was last there, a particularly potent item came into her possession. Something largely forgotten by the mortal races, but the geniefolk are long lived and have long memories. What if the seemingly innocuous bauble is something that the Drow greatly desire, but consider lost to the sands of time. If they find out it has been located, they will unleash seven colors of Underdark hell in an effort to recover it. Kesai knows this, and thus seeks to avoid anything related to the dark elves, lest it draw their attention. She seeks to return to the djinn market not to secure more goods for her emporium, but to return the bauble to the Djinn she’d received it from. She seeks holy protection, perhaps because she believes divine warding is the only thing that can shield her, or because she’s hoping they can take the bauble from her.
This could be a one-off encounter for the players, with a chance to purchase an unusual magic item or rare treasure, or it could open the door to a whole new adventure as the party quests for the djinn market hidden in the desert, either carrying the bauble themselves or escorting Kesai, while being hunted by a dark elf assassin who’s discovered their mission.
If you’re looking to start a whole new campaign with characters starting at level 5+, you could even have Kesai herself be a player character, her backstory crafted from the three Dossier Deck cards. Three cardboard rectangles with some words and pictures on them, chosen at random, and you’ve got a burgeoning player character and inspiration for a whole new campaign. Not too shabby, SkeletonKey, not too shabby.
Dossier Decks are available directly through SkeletonKey’s website, with Commoners, Merchants, Mages and Orcs & Goblins currently available.