The Wishing Well
A wishing well is nothing more that a place to hope and dream. A token offering is given with the silly notion that the wish just might come true. But what happens when these wishes start to come true, on a regular basis?
Across the street from a rather average looking neighborhood tavern and between a warehouse and cobbler shop, is an odd looking well. There is no cover over it nor is there a wheel or crank to get a bucket up. It is placed in a spot that a well is really not needed. Not that you could get much water out of it anyway. The well is very small in diameter and a standard bucket could fit down it, but would most defiantly hit and scrape the sides if not get wedged going either up or down. The locals never get water out of it anyway because it is not made for getting water. It is a wishing well.
The sign above it (for those that can read) says:
'Into the well a coin you surrender'
'before the wish that you must whisper'
Every so often someone will come running into the tavern (The One Eyed Goat) all excited and yelling about finding a purse full of coins or a rare manuscript in the trash or some other find of value. They always say that the wishing well really works. Phrases like 'Why, just three days ago I dropped a gold coin in and made my wish and here it is!' and 'I didn't believe it for a long time but I finally tried it. I'm a believer now!' are typical from the lucky ones coming into the tavern. For days afterwards there will be a lot of talk about the latest lucky guy or gal.
The tavern makes sure that the story of how the wishing well came to be stays in circulation. It is good for business you know. The story is short but to the point. An old man came up the street one day and tripped falling to the ground. Instead of cursing the god of luck he thanked him. To his amazement there was a gold coin on the ground where he lay. Workers showed up the very next day to build the wishing well saying only that an anonymous person paid in advance to have the well dug. The old man was never seen again.
There are a lot of different theories about the proper way to make the wish, all talked about in whispers of course.
What is really happening
Mauk is the tavern owner. He is a former thief of moderate notoriety from another city and came here to avoid a warrant for his arrest. Mauk bought The One Eyed Goat thinking it would be a good way to spend his retirement. There was a small empty spot across the street and after looking at it for close to a year, Mauk came up with an idea.
Understanding the darker world of thieves, he sought out the leader of the thieves' guild (the Switchbacks) to ask permission to build the wishing well. After some hearty negotiation, he contacted a construction crew that the Switchbacks recommended. The price was a little steep but anonymity was assured. Soon the well was being built. While the well was being dug, Mauk had several men working at the tavern on the stairway leading to the cellar. This took several days, a few more than it should have, but no one noticed.
When they were done, a tunnel just big enough for a large man to crawl through, went from a concealed door in the cellar to an underground opening. A wooden tub filled with water was in this opening directly below the wishing well. Mauk checks the tub before he goes to bed each night and collects his money.
For the first three weeks it produced virtually nothing but he expected that. Then, as agreed with the Switchbacks, a 'local' came rambling into The One Eyed Goat bragging up about the full purse he found only hours after dropping a coin into the well. 'I just wish I would have dropped a gold and not a silver.' he said as he dumped out a purse filled with silver on the bar. This was followed up a week later by a woman having found over two dozen gold coins while digging in her garden. The wishing began in earnest.
Mauk has figured out that every twenty-five to thirty days 'Someone needs to come in and show that the wishing well really works' again. As agreed with the Switchbacks, Mauk makes a payment of 20% plus the 'lucky find' for the next person to a 'delivery man' from the Switchbacks. He is mostly honest with the 20% because he knows that the well gets watched and the guild knows about how much gets dropped into it.
The theories about the proper way to make a wish, are planted and well diverse to provide an excuse for 'Why it didn't it work for me?'
This has turned out to be a moderate but steady income for Mauk and his tavern business increased considerably because of it. He is quite pleased with himself.
The Switchbacks recently have been discussing among themselves about upping the percentage Mauk pays them. They allowed him to build it thinking that it would not work anyway and it was a way to return a favor to Mauk's last guild from several years back. But Mauk is not a paying member of the Switchbacks and may be getting pressed for more money soon.
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? Responses (7)
I really like the idea!
I'm a little dubious on how this can be an active source of income, that can even interest the local thief guild. The number of wisher should be very high, like some turistic attraction or sacred place.
Of course Mauk can just keep it to aid his real business, but i feel like the thief guild should have a more serious reason to be really interested. Maybe they use the well to hide stolen money while on the run; and they fear that Mauk is keeping a cut on that.
I did not give the association with the thieves guild a lot of thought. It originally was only a twist on the end but I added a few other links as I refined the piece. The ended up being a 'sneaky' way of getting to an end. In my mind, the increase in tavern business would make more money than the well as local people would come to gossip about the well.
I could say that the guild could press for all the money from the well knowing that the tavern is the money maker only because of the well. But that is not what I had in mind to begin with.
I do like your idea of an alternative reason for the guild wanting the well very much.
I used this in a game with four young boys once and it was the best part of the game. It had nothing to do with the plot but we did spend a lot of time making wishes. Oh, the things boys can come up with. They never investigated the well or anything of the sort. They just spent there money and made wishes and laughed for almost an hour. These games are for having fun after all.
This could be a common 'con' in a world where magic is demonstrably real.
You've just invented the fantasy slot machine - brilliant!
I love the idea and the story.
One suggestion, based off eleclipse's comment - maybe it's a form of money laundering for the Thieves' Guild? Your average villager or peasant is going to have coppers, maybe a silver, but not gold. But think about that from an in-character perspective - what does the Guild bribe your average watchman or clerk with? Or how would a beggar explain a pouch full of gold pieces to an honest watchman? This is a great way for a small town's Thieves' Guild to turn 1 stolen gold piece into a 110 or 110 copper pieces, which are a much more liquid form of money. Not a huge take on it's own, but if you add in the 10-20% fee they'd need to fork over to some crooked moneylender, that's a low but steady source of income (like the casino with the slot machine).
The only real problem is that it wouldn't scale in the countryside. In a city it might, but then you'd inevitably get someone investigating it.
How does Mauk keep someone else from sneaking down the well to snatch the gold and finding out his secret?
Perhaps instead of a wooden bucket, there's a couple of feet of standing water (just in case someone tries to go looking) and a fine net that allows Mauk to quickly collect his catch for the day.
I can definitely see throwing this into just about any campaign as a little side quest. Very clever!
This idea is more suited for a city.
Keeping people out of the well is simple. It is barely big enough for a bucket let alone a person.
There is a wooden tub with water at the bottom that the coins fall into for the 'slash' and they would be very easy to get out. Also since he gets to the wooden tub through a tunnel from his basement no one will see him do it.
Maybe Mauk asks the PCs and pays them well to protect him from over-the-top shakedowns? Or the PCs find out about the well and decide to rob it?
My favorite part of this is Mauk negotiating with the thieves guild and the fact they produced the contractors to build the well, and later wanted their percentage upped. The behind the scenes by-play and all that. Adds a sense of 'realism' to the proceedings.