Introduction: I’ll bet one of the most commonly asked questions placed at the feet of any Dungeon Master is, “Is there a place where I can buy magic items?” This might have been a common occurrence in past editions of D&D, but Fifth Edition has limited access to a magical marketplace. That’s not to say they do not exist, nor can one never find purveyors of such rare and wondrous items. Far from it. But the danger in dealing with such a market bears the risk of trying to prove its own economic worth. Rare components, or those gained through dangerous tasks, would make most proper magic items either impossibly expensive or priceless. Those that might be common enough for sale would be overpriced due to their difficult creation or high demand. It truly would be a seller’s market.
This encounter would be for those brave DMs who would wish to rise to that question with an even more difficult bargain. For those familiar with such works as “Needful Things” or even Pixar’s “Brave,” a shop might well exist to address the player’s needs. The answer to the question “Is there a place where I can buy magic items?” might be “How bad do you want it?”
For your possible use, I present Madam Versiliplex and her Magical Wonders.
Environment: Anywhere. You could make this a small shop in a city, or a cabin in the woods.
For the purposes of versatility, I have made this a horse-drawn wagon.
Suggested level: Any, but for those who wish to take on Madam Versiliplex, level 5.
Description: Perhaps the players are seeking someone who deals in magical wares, or even more suspiciously, are just discussing where to find such a place. At that time, feel free to have a local unnamed peasant wordlessly direct them to an approaching oxen-drawn cart.
The cart will be drawn by a single ox – the bell hung from the yoke below its neck loudly clanging to the rhythm of the beast’s stride. The cart will be an elaborate affair. Constructed from wood with simple wooden wheels, it will have several strings of bone, crystals, and small bells hung from a low arched roof. A lamp hangs from the front and another from the back, both giving off an eerie green glow. Tiny wisps of smoke trail into the wind from each lamp. The walls of the cart are covered in sun-baked paint peeling from wear and neglect. A single window, tightly shuttered, marks each side and the front of the cart, and a small metal stove pipe trails white smoke from the ceramic-tiled roof. Painted in elaborate, yet faded colors are the flowing script-like words in Common: “Madam Versiliplex’s Magical Wonders.”
A single small door allows entrance. A knocker in the shape of a grinning child’s head biting a loop, bids you welcome.
If the characters approach, the cart will stop and allow them to draw near. The door will remain locked until the characters knock. If they knock with their hands, they will have a wait of at least one full minute. If they use the knocker, each knock will sound thunderous inside – like a massive empty room lays beyond. When they knock three times, steps of wood will unfurl below the door as if made of cloth. The click and clack of several locks will be heard beyond the door, and then the door will creak open.
Greeting the characters will be a small Gnome woman of great age. Her white hair will be long and tied in a massive bun. The gnome will be adorned with tiny bones and gold chains with delicate charms. Red robes covered in sigils are tied about her waist with a belt heavy with pouches, vials, and scroll tubes. Her arms hang with many bangles, and rings decorate every finger. A rat, its eyes reflecting red by torchlight, pokes its head out of her robe to peek at the strangers.
“Ah, my curious little children. I wondered when you would finally come. Come in, come in.” She will beckon them and offer tea. When the characters enter, what will unfold might be surprising. The interior of this tiny cart will be a 20’ x 20’ cabin. A roaring fireplace adorns the far wall with a large pot happily bubbling along. Shelves line the walls, covered in books, scroll tubes, and dusty bottles. A suit of armor stands quietly in one corner while a dusty rack of melee weapons stands in another.
A large round table sits in the very center of the room surrounded by six chairs, and a rocking chair sits beside the fireplace. In the center of the table sits a large, sealed, glass jar filled with a smoky, swirling fluid or gas. The table rests upon a fat, wooden barrel instead of legs.
The place smells of wood smoke, tallow candles, and fresh bread. The taint of mildew and sulfur are also present.
She will greet them and be very inviting. Madam Versiliplex will listen attentively to the party’s needs and concerns, and will offer hot tea to those who wish it.
But always keep this one fact in mind:
Madam Versiliplex is a Night Hag who has polymorphed into this Gnome guise to throw off suspicion. She is cunning and experienced, and will not reveal her intentions until she has the players truly hooked. If they ask for simple magical wares like Potions or Scrolls, she might have a few on hand. The first couple of Healing Potions might be a little more expensive than normal (say, 1.5 times regular cost). If the players cannot afford them, then she might offer a deal. She’ll be willing to trade potions and such for simple tasks. She might claim a local magistrate has been taxing her unfairly, so she only has a few items to spare. If that magistrate’s bully son were dealt with, maybe she could be more generous. Or perhaps she’ll claim wolves are harassing her ox. She might have a special bait for the wolves to eat that will make them stop attacking the local cattle. Feel free to invent your own task.
But the task should have a twist. The magistrate might well be unreasonable, or have a bully son, but perhaps they are trying to find out more about Versiliplex. She cannot allow this, so she’ll set up events so the “offenders” fall victim to a tragic “accident,” likely when the player characters are present. Her pet rat, Skek, is actually an Imp familiar, so he’ll work behind the scenes while Invisible to track the players and set up any accidents. Perhaps Wolves are actually attacking cattle. But her bait will transform them into Death Dogs and they will then begin to ravage the countryside. Should the players track down and kill the Death Dogs, they’ll still have to somehow deal with any who have been diseased by the Death Dogs. Versiliplex might have the cure … but there’s this thing she needs you to do … These are but examples.
The following items are in the shop. Each will have its own complication as noted under the item. Versiliplex will warn the party that everything is either older or has “a personality” due to former owners.
Potions of Healing – Five in stock. Versiliplex can make more after a few days. These will heal like normal Potions of Healing (2d4+2 hit points), but for every one consumed, similar potions from other sources will work less. For every one of Madam Versiliplex’s healing potions drank, remove a cumulative -2 hit points healed from other potions. For example, if you’ve drank two of her Potions of Healing, then you heal 4 fewer hit points from the next Healing potion that’s NOT made by her. This effect ends with a Remove Curse cast upon the drinker.
Potion of Ogre Strength – Only three in stock. This potion acts like a Potion of Hill Giant Strength (page 187, Dungeon Master’s Guide), but with only a Strength boost to 19 instead of 21. The effect lasts for 1 hour like other potions of this type, and has no boosting effect upon a character whom already has a Strength of 19 or greater. For every potion of this kind drank, the imbiber must make a Constitution saving throw with a cumulative -1 per “Potion of Ogre Strength” drank to resist the desire to each raw flesh. A character who fails will be driven to eat anything raw (insects, small animals and the like. If a character gets to the point where they fail a saving throw and the penalty is -5 or worse, then the character becomes cannibalistic until a Remove Curse is cast upon them.
Goggles of Night – one in stock. For this item, Versiliplex will need a task performed that is equivalent to stealing an item from one innocent victim and “returning it” to another unknown innocent victim. She will be adamant about the player not being discovered. She’ll claim the item was wrongfully taken and she would like her friend to get it back without violence or further embarrassment to either family. Her plan is to reveal the item and start both families fighting with each other — likely leading to someone being beaten or killed — if she has her way. The player’s will not know this or be told of it willingly. Furthermore, the Goggles carry an additional property: Madam Versiliplex will see everything that the character sees. Otherwise they work like standard “Goggles of Night” (page 172, DMG).
Spell scrolls – For the list of spells available, see page 176 of the Monster Manual under “Coven Spells.” Madam Versiliplex will claim her list of spells is limited and her resources have been depleted over time. These are all she has left, she’ll say.
Plate Armor, Mariner – This suit stands in the corner and, although dust covered and neglected, it bears fine engraving and looks well made. The design of a giant squid covers its breastplate with engraved tentacles spreading to the arms and the legs. The suit acts as Mariner’s Armor (page 181, DMG). Madam Versiliplex will claim that “she can’t possibly part with it” and will take some convincing …which is all a ploy, of course. She will demand some silly price for the armor, like 5000 gp, but will allow herself to be talked down to half that amount. She will then carry on like the suit was meant for the character receiving the armor, as it fits so well. Furthermore, once donned, the armor will refuse to be doffed. It will take a Remove Curse to get the armor off. Once it’s on, the wearer will be Vulnerable to Fire damage and at Disadvantage to resisting any effect that has a Fire component (Fireball, Burning Hands, extinguishing Alchemist’s Fire, etc.)
Longsword +1 – One of the many weapons on the dusty rack is this enchanted sword. Madam Versiliplex will be very resistant to parting with it, but may let it go for a successful Persuasion check of 20+ and a bribe of 1,000gp. She’ll claim a dangerous beast has been lurking about the area, terrorizing the populace, and she intends to use the sword to slay the beast. If a character volunteers to do so for her, she’ll let the sword go for half the price. The beast she’ll want slain is actually a local Druid in Bear form that she’ll claim is a lycanthrope gone mad with an ancient curse beyond her ken to cure (use Druid from page 346 of the Monster Manual). Should the character or party fail to kill this Druid, the sword will animate as per Flying Sword and attack its former wielder (Animated Object, Flying Sword, page 20 of the MM).
Rug of Smothering – page 20, Monster Manual
Treasure: See above for “treasure.”
Complications: The items all have their own, as do the associated tasks. Versiliplex will wish to have as many complications as possible. Keep in mind it is always Madam Versiliplex’s intention to have the characters gain these items if they want them, but she will make them think the items are more precious than they actually are. She’s a very long-lived Night Hag with centuries of experience in lying, manipulating and duping mortals. When the players are in negotiations with her, do NOT prompt them to make Insight rolls to tell if she’s lying. If they OFFER a roll, by all means allow it. The DC on any Insight check against Madam Versiliplex’s deceit will be a 20 to know something’s up. To know that she intends harm to them will be a DC 25. This is quite high, but this is her con, and she’s played it well for over 200 years.
Should the players wish to attack the Hag in her wagon, she will not be alone. Not only is her Imp “Skek” always with her (unless it’s spying on the players), but the Armor and the Sword will animate as per Animated Objects (pages 19 and 20 of the Monster Manual), and the carpet on the floor will also become a Rug of Smothering (page 20 of the Monster Manual). Her first action will be to go Ethereal and escape, letting the Animated Objects fight in her stead. The wagon itself is her “Hag Vehicle” (Volo’s Guide to Monsters, page 56), and obeys her commands. The Ox is there simply for show and is pushed along by the cart. If the Objects are defeated and the Hag is not within, the wagon will also go Ethereal, leaving the characters behind.
I fell into gaming in the oddest of ways. Coming out of a bad divorce, my mom tried a lot of different things to keep my brother and I busy and out of trouble. It didn’t always work. One thing that I didn’t really want to do, but did because my mom asked, was enroll in Venturers. As an older Scout-type movement, I wasn’t really really for the whole camping-out thing. Canoe trips and clean language were not my forte. Drag racing, BMX and foul language were.
What surprised me though was one change of pace our Scout leader tried. He DMed a game of the original D&D that came out after Chainmail (and even preceedd the Red Box). All the weapons just did 1d6 damage, and the three main demi-humans (Elf, Dwarf and Halfling) were not only races, but classes. There were three alignments (Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic). It was very basic. I played all the way through high school and met a lot of new people through gaming. My expected awkwardness around the opposite sex disappeared when I had one game that was seven girls playing. They, too, never thought that they would do this, and it was a great experiement.
But it got me hooked. I loved gaming, and my passion for it became infectious. Despite hanging with a very rough crowd who typically spent Fridays scoring drugs, getting into fights, and whatnot, I got them all equally hooked on my polyhedral addiction. I DMed guys around my table that had been involved in the fast-living/die young street culture of the 80s, yet they took to D&D like it was second nature. They still talk to me about those days, even when one wore a rival patch on his back to the one I was wearing. We just talked D&D. It was our language.
Dungeons and Dragons opened up a whole new world too. I met lots off oddballs along with some great people. I played games like Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Car Wars, Battletech, lots of GURPS products, Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Twilight 2000, Rolemaster, Champions, Marvel Superheroes, Earth Dawn…the list goes on. There was even a time while I was risiding with a patch on my back and I would show up for Mechwarrior (the clix kind) tournaments. I was the odd man out there.
Gaming lead to me attending a D&D tournament at a local convention, which lead to being introduced to my paintball team, called Black Company (named after the book), which lead to meeting my wife. She was the sister of my 2iC (Second in Command), and I fell in love at first sight.
Gaming lead to me meeting my best friend, who was my best man at my wedding and is the godfather of my youngest daughter.
Life being what it is, there was some drama with my paintball team/D&D group, and we parted ways for a number of years. In that time I tried out two LARP systems, which taught me a lot about public speaking, improvisation, and confidence. There was a silver lining. I didn’t play D&D again for a very long time, though.
Then 5E came out.
I discovered the Adventurer’s League, and made a whole new group of friends. I discovered Acquisitions Incorporated, Dwarven Tavern, and Nerdarchy. I was hooked again.
And now my daughter is playing. I introduced her to 5E and my style of DMing, and we talk in “gamer speak” a lot to each other (much to the shagrin of my wife/her mother…who still doesn’t “get it”). It’s my hope that one day she’ll be behind the screen DMing her kids through an amazing adventure. Time will tell.