A Market Solution
Our recurring Eberron campaign, the one mentioned in previous posts by this blog’s titular DM, has generally placed an emphasis on story elements such as prophecy and birth, and high staked action-packed combat. With the characters so actively involved in large scale plot, the unfortunate result is that there has been an oversight in traditional heroic tier elements such as the acquisition of renown and wealth. This issue was addressed when a guest DM took over the campaign reins for two episodes to resolve a cliffhanger involving a Warforged Titan and take us into a story detour that allows the party to explore underlying ties between the Kalashtar and the Warforged. Eventually, the party had to go to the Mror Holds, posing as an eclectic band of traders.
There are two reasons why we ended up doing this: 1) we were looking for a specific dwarf, but trying to snoop around town would be difficult when our party is wanted for crimes we didn’t commit and made up of races that stick out anywhere across the Five Nations. 2) we were dead broke, and it was beginning to show in our artificer who had no resources to spend on creating item enchantments. This is where we got creative and decided to purchase large quantities of trade goods of interest to the Mror Hold dwarves and pose as an eclectic band of traders and spend the day trying to turn a good profit over them. The DM showed his creative and dynamic role-playing skills by playing the role of the many people who would come over and purchase our goods.
In reaction, we the players had to role-play back in order to get a good price. We’d try to impress buyers by displaying feats of finesse in slicing up cuts of meat, talk up a good game about the value of certain spirits and wines and implore others to part with more coin for the last bits of premium goods. It was all good fun! A failed bit of persuasion would result in a counter offer, followed up by creative ways to turn them around to get a better offer. A 50% mark up would result in a 30% loss followed by a 20% mark up, and on some spectacular rolls we got to sell stuff for twice or thrice their value.
In essence, it was a long-form skill challenge, but not necessarily one that went by the books. Rather, individual sales were determined as a short series of checks against one another. The lesson that can be taken away from all this, is that a clever or resourceful DM can work with the players to find ways to resolve particular issues in the campaign, not by metagaming them – Oh no! You’re items suck, I’m bumping them up! – and not by putting them against more trials and/or combat, but by creating in-story solutions to them.
Still, I highly recommend putting your players into mundane situations like spending a day at the market. You’ll give them a chance to make the most of their skills to earn money, but without risking life and limb.