Something Weird cart
'Something weird heah! Get yer weird things!' I raised an eyebrow. Street vendors rolled by the Woflo Inn about five hundred blighted times a day, screeching like strangled gulls. I got sick of the racket by the second day, but it was midsummer, and closing the shutters would've choked us with the heat. Blight take this human city anyway, I'd take the Altanian jungles if I had a choice. At least there are no street vendors there.
Chav was on her feet and grabbing for her belt pouch like a shot. 'Where are YOU going?' I drawled.
'You GOTTA come see this, Eve! This guy is great!' And with that, she was right out the door and pelting down the stairs.
'Something weird heah! Get yer weird things riiiight heah!'
No one knows his name ... he's never said. No one knows anything about him ... he won't talk. But every rare once in a while, maybe twice a year, maybe less, he's pushing his cart down the cobblestones, barking out his sales pitch.
The man's of average height, dusky complexion, raggedly cut dark brown hair. His garb is dusty, worn, nondescript homespun, with a faded indigo wool vest. He always seems to need a shave. He bears no weapon.
But the tale's not about him. It's about his cart.
It's a simple pushcart, two handles, two wobbly wheels. On it is a baffling array of packages, all wrapped up in faded, threadbare canvas and tied with coarse twine. They are of all shapes, and of many sizes; no two are alike. For just five silver pennies, you can have one item.
But only one. On any given trip, he will never sell more than one item to one person. He'll hand you your item, and move on, sounding out his call once more.
And then it's your turn: to figure out just what in the hell you've got.
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What the cart vends is offbeat items. My own list runs several hundred deep, and are almost all 20th-21st century items, usually quite mundane. Examples I've given out in the past are rolls of Scotch tape, a modern Alpine backpack, a car antenna, a Bic lighter, a box of plastic army men, a Brillo pad, a tube of Preparation H, a box of tampons, a TV tray, a space blanket, a penlight, a Slinky, an aluminum baseball bat, a set of chess pieces (one side only) made of Bakelite, and a parking meter.
The trick is to identify it without any handles that would quickly reveal it: 'You've got an odd wooden pole. It's about four feet long and an inch square. It has strange runes on it, unrecognizable to you, painted on the shaft. At one end is a flat paddle, about a foot long, and breaking off at a 45 degree angle. The end of the pole is tipped with an odd black substance that's sticky to the touch and slightly flexible; the paddle is wrapped in the middle with a thin layer of what appears to be the same substance.' That's an actual example, and it took the party that had it over a half-hour to figure it out. I'll upvote the first commenter who does.
The vendor won't sell you more than one, and no matter what it is it costs no more than five silver pennies. He won't give you any clue what anything is, and is blandly incurious. He's also laconic about damn near everything else too: 'I get these from friends.' 'Eh, selling them is a living.' Ask too many questions, he'll frown and move on.
If you try to follow him, he'll disappear around the next corner and just plain vanish. No one's ever accosted or attacked him, and no one's been insane enough to try to rob him. (My parties, who are uniformly charmed when the fellow shows up, exert peer pressure on anyone who's tried to so much as give him a hard time.) I leave it up to GMs what happens if anyone tries, but I recommend lightning from the sky and the earth opening up to swallow offenders. Anyway, the vendor will never sell to that character again, and in fact will avoid the party he's in thereafter.
It is, of course, up to the players to decide what good the items are for, if any. Some, like a 20th century cowboy hat, are obvious. Some, like a lava lamp or a toaster oven, sure as heck aren't.
Comment: I have this in 'Item' rather than 'NPC' because I feel what this is really about is whatever you get off of the cart -- the 'vendor' is just the means of delivery.
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? Responses (12)-12
I love the idea. Gave a vote bonus for the creativity of it as I can't recall ever hearing about a usage of current items in a situation like this. Very fun. I can see players casting all kinds of spells. Is it magical? Is it warm to the touch? etc etc. What would they do with a lava lamp. LOL!
Especially good if they don't know you are describing a current item. Then, when they finally ask the stupid question, 'Is it scotch tape?' do you answer IC or OOC? LOL
I think I know the answer. Do the Blackhawks use it?
(oh, and the intro is fabulous)
Hah, both you and Valadaar got it, obviously. Given that the run was taking place in a city which won, within the last decade, the trophy the Blackhawks won, you'd think the players would be quicker off the mark.
And sure, you might think, 'What in the hell are the players going to do with a lava lamp?' They keep on surprising me with the answers.
Great stuff! The old RPG Gamma world had a whole rule system for identifying the artifacts of the ancients and encouraged providing descriptions that did not immediately identify them.
This is a great way to add some anachronisms to your campaign that is highly controlled.
And as a Canadian, I think it would be unfair to guess on that item :P
The part that really makes this is that the items are mundane and modern, but deprived of their actual names, brands, etc, they become something different, and we see our own crap in an almost anthropological manner. I remember an activity I did in school, where we were given a variety of objects, and were told to extrapolate what we could about the culture that made them, without relying on anything not on the item. One of our items was a copper disc slightly larger than a thumbnail, marked with letters and numbers, and holding the image of a bearded man, and on the other side, a building. It was a penny, but the function was the same. Interesting and fun. Looking around me right now, the first five things that I see for the cart include: a brown bottle with an orange lid, the contents of the bottle are very sticky and vaguely snot-like, a hard black case of indeterminate material, a paper cylinder with some sort of spiced flat cracker like objects inside it, a small vial of iridescent red fluid, the lid also has a brush, and a heavy gold tome of unintelligible writing and many pictures of what looks like pastry.
(rubber cement, a gun case, can of pringles, nail polish, and a cook book for cookies)
This idea is genius! My players (at least 2 of the 3) absolutely adore silly little trinkets, like rusty fish hooks, clockwork bird cages, or a mummified rat, because they're pointless but flavorful (and may have a use). This steps it up by not only having those trinkets, but making them near impossible to identify off the descriptors alone (depending on the object). I love messing with them too, so this is probably the best things I've seen in awhile.
Some of my own ideas of things that may be in the cart: a portable fan, a tuba, a heavy metal CD (with no method to play it), a box of Legos, a toy lightsaber, a Nintendo 3DS with one game inside and a fully charged battery (still gotta figure out how to use it), and a vacuum sweeper.
Out of votes, so I'll just comment.
While this is a good idea well executed, there are two critical flaws which crack my suspension of disbelief.
* So let me get this straight: This guy, who EVERYONE loves and NO ONE knows anything about, is sauntering around a fantasy setting, selling 20th and 21st century items? Genre / setting mixups is my primary pet peeve, and a huge bringer of ruin of the atmosphere. A true suspension of disbelief mcguffin. Of course I have witnessed such ideas as this by many new GMs, but I would advise against it for any serious roleplaying group.
* So this 'fantasy setting' of yours feature contemporary items as their most exotic elements? And the vendor won't sell more than one item, once each half year??? Who is he? Santa Claus? Sorry, but I don't believe in Santa Claus. And if people try to rob him, lightning should start showing in the skies and the earth should swallow up the character in question? Isn't that a little too much of a Mary Sue character? GM protected goofy NPCs that the PCs cannot touch just aren't very realistic, are they?
This was a comment written in the same style and manner that you use. Personally I find it offensive, though I can vouch for what I wrote. However I would never condone treating another Strolenite in this way, had he not deserved it. I think we should leave malicious reviews to arrogant journalists, and treat each other as brothers here at the Citadel.
But that is just my 0.02 cents
Well, gosh, doesn't sound like you find the style so offensive as all of that, seeing as you're pretty free and easy about using it. But no, I don't mind answering your questions, not being a hypocrite myself.
* I don't know about 'everyone loving' the guy. My players certainly do. Every Strolenite posting above you seems to. Does every NPC he encounters? Probably not, no.
* So genre mixing's a pet peeve of yours? Don't use it then. A lot of gamers (and, come to that, authors) don't agree with you, and think that genre-mixing's 'atmosphere' works just fine, but it takes all kinds. I'm not about to tell you what gaming styles you're allowed to like and what you're not.
* About 'exotic elements,' sorry, I ain't playing the 'when did you stop beating your wife?' game. Me, I never said anything of the sort. I've got a notion what I consider exotic elements. (I hadn't counted this NPC among them.) You might or might not agree with me. Eh.
* The vendor won't sell more than one item per person per trip? That's what I said, yeah. You don't believe in Santa Claus? Whatever, dude. What you choose to believe or not around Christmas time is your business, and none of mine. What that has to do with this sub, o' course, I've no idea, especially since last I checked, no one claimed that Santa asks kiddies to pony up their allowances before dishing out prezzies. (I don't figure that the vendor wears red, either, or that he's an old-timer with a long white beard.)
* My setting isn't the first, or the first hundredth, or the first ten thousandth, to have beings the PCs aren't tough enough to take on. Ever. (Some settings have a word for that, actually: 'gods.') Are you telling us that every NPC or being you've ever used can be taken down by one of your parties? Anyhow, I've been pretty lucky over the years with players not being cementheads and dealing with everything they don't understand by trying to kill it. I'm OK with that sort of encounter. Obviously not everyone is. Those folks shouldn't use this vendor or anything like him.
* Might want to brush up on your definitions, there. Start with 'Mary Sue.' That doesn't mean 'invulnerable character.' It means an idealized character with heavy elements of wish-fulfillment on the creator's part. I got to tell you, man, while there are wishes I'd like fulfilled, if I was gonna create a NPC I'd want to be like, I wouldn't pick a dude with not a lot of personality traits beyond that he shoves a pushcart through cities all day long, peddling oddball things for silver. Strikes me as pretty lame-ass boring for a lifestyle.
Anyway, man, if what you're looking for is for no one ever to write a critical comment on one of your subs, and it bends you out of shape enough to go looking for one of their subs to pounce on when someone does, you might want to say so up front, because someone else might come along and not know.
A fun challenge for GMs in loose world emersion games. This post could be used as the textbook explanation of how 'GM voice' works. Again nice idea for something that serves meta considerations first and foremost. I can imagine a lot of gamers would have fun with this.
And here is the actual comment I would have written:
In my honest opinion one should avoid the mixing of genres. It suspends belief and makes your setting more 'goofy' than realistic. Also I would like to comment on the character pulling the cart. I prefer not to use characters that seem godlike, and besides that: What is his purpose?
Why is he selling, when he clearly isn't selling to gain money (max 1 item per person)
Does the divine wrath that occurs when he is attacked indicate that he is some sort of god?
If so: Why would a god sell plain items from another dimension?
The one thing that I like about the sub is this image: 'That one salesman with his cart somehow manages to invoke a frenzy in the populace, and EVERYONE wants to buy something from him. I really like that.
This was a gut honest piece of feedback.
To which I would've answered something along the lines of -- so stipulated. If you think something like this makes a setting less realistic and more goofy, well, some settings are like that. I can think of a lot of elements and genres I don't like or use: horror, grimdark, slapstick, that sort of thing. That doesn't mean that they suck (or that I low-vote subs containing them), it just means that they're not my cup of coffee.
As far as the other questions go, well, yeah, those are good questions, and I leave them up to individual GMs to answer for themselves. For my part, I'm real comfy with there being inexplicable things in a game setting, and that's key to any setting keeping a sense of wonder.
this is sad. because in a perfect world you two would be lovers.
Just love and will include it as an encounter for my own settlements.
Thanks for sharing this lovely idea with us.