While killing an ogre for the local Baron for a quick pickup of 100gp, the party offs the ogre’s buddy, a nasty little goblin. This guy was a real jerk. Once he was good and dead – the fighter stabbed the goblin extra for good measure – the party did what adventuring parties do. They rolled the bodies. Among the handfuls of copper pieces, a few unusable weapons and a convenient cache of crossbow bolts, the party discovers the goblin was wearing a pair of Boots of Striding and Springing.
For whatever reason, the party decides it doesn’t want to keep the boots. Perhaps it is a matter of taste. The style is out of fashion. The size is too small. Also, as magic items go, boots of striding and springing are on the low-end of the interesting scale. Regardless, the party takes the boots to the nearby peaceful peasant market town to unload them as one does with unused magic items.
The local cordwainer won’t accept the boots of striding and springing. The cordwainer, a member of the local shoemaker’s guild in good standing, doesn’t recognize the boots as magic but he does recognize them as a different make than other boots made in the region. Good quality, good make, but they’re not his nor one of his fellow guildmates so he cannot resell them. He is not authorized to buy and sell foreign goods and if they’re left in his shop, he’ll get found out by the guild for hoarding strange makes of highly unauthorized footwear. There’s a price list. He likes being part of the guild, see. They help him and his family out when he’s down. His father was part of this guild. His grandfather was a grandmaster of the cordwainers of the peaceful peasant village. And he doesn’t want any trouble. Besides, he only pays in script and not in coinage. The party needs to move along.
The local merchant doesn’t recognize the boots, either, but he recognizes them as magic immediately on inspecting them on the counter in his small shop. The wizard’s craft mark is on the inner sole. See that right there? These are wizarding shoes. Great magic in wizarding shoes. The merchant’s guild in this region isn’t permitted in its charter to resell strange, foreign wizarding shoes. They banged this charter out so the merchant can sell commodity goods here and the Baron stays over there where the town would like them and the Baron, well, he takes interest in these sorts of things. Maybe the party took them off a wizard? That’s a problem right there, too. The merchant can’t pay for strange foreign wizarding things in his shop. Brings nothing but trouble. Besides, the town mostly works on script, ledgers, loaning and mutual debt. The merchant can only pay in Bob the Baker’s bread. Do you like bread? Bob’s bread? Fantastic.
- Forcing the merchant to accept the boots unearths the hard reality that the Merchant’s Guild of the town is also the Judge’s Guild, the local Mafioso Guild, and the Government Guild. This merchant? He’s also the Mayor. And the Head Judge. The merchant will call in his friends and his friends will make sure the party doesn’t sell no weird, foreign, and possibly evil wizarding shoes in this town. We won’t kill you right here and now because of the ogre business but maybe it’s time to go. The locals are not much when it comes to fighting but leaving an entire town murdered over a pair of boots – there’s a slippery slope to neutral evilhood. The party’s cleric might be irked.
- Getting the local Baron involved brings up all kinds of ugly questions like: “Why are the lower folk walking around with a pair of magic boots?“ And then the magic boots will belong to the Baron because he needs to go on campaign and he doesn’t have magic boots. Now he does. Yours. Not a great plan. Great guy until someone shows up with some magic items and then not such a nice guy any more.
- Barding up the merchant or pulling out some merchant background can get a bit of “I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy.” Maybe there’s something the merchant needs for a bit of favor. Besides, the guy trades in favors all day. The local merchant is not of any help but there might be an upstream reseller. Here’s a bit of a written introduction and a rough schedule for a Faire that moves around a number of cities. Nomenally that faire sells cloth but an entrepreneaur can unload a pair of boots if the buyer is right and the place is right and the money is right.
- Calling down on God or Gods is a thing that works because if there is anything a merchant needs, it’s a blessing to help him move those more mundane items in his shop. But he still doesn’t handle foreign magic goods and he can only pay in what he owes to other townspeople.
- Cutting the inner soles out of the boots to remove the wizard’s mark and leaving them with the local non-guild affiliated peddler with his jingle jangle wagon of assorted goods for a few copper will get rid of them quick but these boots are worth some serious scratch. Always an option but no adventuring party is going to get rich off filing the serial numbers off magic items and unloading them on movable consignment stores.
No one in the town is going to buy the boots the local head cleric explains to the party on their way (hopefully) out of town. And no one wants them. These are good people. Godly people. People who tithe regularly to their local Temple. What the local head cleric, who is one of those nice guys affiliated with one of the local Gods of home and hearth, wants is the party to take the boots and leave. They will bring nothing but instability to this nice little community. If there’s anything the Gods want, its stability.
A group of towns who want to become cities situated on ancient trade roads hold a rotating open market. What it is, who hosts, and where it is held depends on the time of year. The external appearance of the Faire is selling well-known commodity goods: one week is cloth, another is spices, another leather and other durable goods. Merchants travel over incredible distances marked with the occasional Random Encounter to make it here to unload from all over the known world and over it all a rich and powerful Lord who makes it happen with the guarantees of security and law. It’s his Law but his Law is he gets his tax. As long as no one sets the entire town on fire and brings the Lord into it, he’s fine with whatever nonsense happens.
No one sells magic items in the open here, either, but the party can lay hands on some seriously upgraded pieces of mundane equipment if necessary. At night, behind the tents and in the bars, people settle their accounts and the interesting goods exchange hands.
By knowing a guy, having a letter of introduction, getting the right people drunk, surviving a few fist fights, and generally running around depraved, it’s possible to find the magic items broker. The party will bump into a bunch of other guys, too. Nothing is ever simple on the quest to unload a pair of slightly magical boots:
Someone from one of the Wizard Craft Guilds is attending the Faire looking for the same sets of background deal brokers to unload their magic items into circulation. (How else do they make their way into dungeons and random treasure tables?) The Wizard Craft Guilds aren’t like a small peaceful peasant village Shoemaker’s Guild. These are guys with money, muscle, and agents to move their merchandise. And these aren’t the Wizards themselves, of course – no self-respecting Wizard is going to come out of his tower to sell at some Faire. That would mean getting dirty. This is a broker’s broker with his own set of thugs. And they want to know why this party is selling strange, foreign magic boots with a different wizard’s mark than their Guild into circulation.
- Is the party now magic boot-making competition?
- Is there a collect and resell effort from foreign points going on to dilute the list prices of magic items?
- Are the local wizards of the Wizard Craft Guild being scammed?
Maybe what the party needs is a visit from the broker’s local group of armed friends, in the cover of darkness, behind the bar. Because while the party may not have to go, the boots certainly do.
The black market gets whiff there’s some action in the magic items area and, unlike the rubes back home, these are guys who know how to move magic items and get them into the hands of discerning dealers. Sure the party might be running from the thugs behind the Wizards Craft Guild but here’s a friend – really! a friend! – who only wants to get the best price for the boots for his quiet, discerning client. This is safe. This is clean. No Guilds involved at all except for Ours but you don’t need to know about that. This will move the boots and sell them to a discrete buyer. The Necromatic Arch Lich and his Legions of Terrifying Evil who simply need high quality footwear as they trample on the necks of the local populance. You know how it is.
Running amok away from the thieves’s guild and the wizard craft guild, the party draws the attention of the local Merchant’s Guild who both try to turn a blind eye to all sorts of shenanigans but if inns start getting burnt to the ground, they’re both going to get wary. Luckily for the party, the local Merchant’s Guild is on a whole different playing field than the local Merchant’s Guild of the small town. These guys finance entire armies for rich patrons. They have their own set of mercantile laws that have nothing whatsoever to do with local Law, or the Lord’s Law, or laws from the local Temple. These guys are judge, jury, executioner, and the entire local government. We leave that for now, because the Merchant’s Guild wants to see if the party lives. If they do, there might be something in it for them.
And after lighting some bar on fire while running out, the party hooks up with their guy. They have wizard guild thugs after them. Black market mafia thugs after them after breaking their deal to sell the boots. They got beer all over their new leathers. Letters of introduction are exchanged. In a room in quite another inn across town, the magic item broker looks at the boots, looks at the wizards mark in the sole, and he tells you his fee for moving the boots is 37%. At a list price of 5500gp, he’s going to take a little over 2000gp from the party for the price of taking those boots off the party’s hands. Good magic item laundering service is expensive.
In a time of craft guilds, merchant guilds, organizational guilds, nobility, and wizards in towers protected by armies of thugs, it’s hard to move foreign merchandise. No one wants to accept the risk of explaining where the item came from. And all the rich guilds have their form of muscle and protection. This is all to say, one can get mileage out of a pair of boots rolled off a dead goblin. And maybe in the end it is easiest just to pull the soles and unload them on the peddler. It’s cheaper that way.
The Faire is based on the Champagne Faires, a thing that happened before the rise of the Hanseatic League and a tribute to the absolute determination, in the face of Kings and Guilds, to turn a buck.