Caravan Peddlers: The Appraiser

So your group has all this loot but they’re not sure what to do with it—especially if its in the form of a giant ivory sculpture of a behir or a cup of treant tears. It’s all valuable, but how do the characters hock it for their own means? In some cases, the DM might even restrict what kinds of magic items the players can purchase or craft themselves, or the party is way outside of any civilized area to trade in a pristine gem encrusted chalice for some much needed material components.

Enter the Caravan, a D&D device which takes the form of a pack of vagabonds traveling the world like a mini point of light adding a refreshing break from dungeon monotony or survival challenges, all whilst providing a means to do business and bartering with the characters. The Caravan can contain any number of NPCs that can be helpful (and fun) for the characters. I’ll build this as a series then, adding a new gypsy, acrobat, peddler or performer to the cavalcade each time. These little mobile merchants offer the opportunity to trade on the road first and foremost, but a savvy player might gain a bit more that the expert caravaners keep close to the chest, like sage advice, uncommon or even rare items, training in powers the characters didn’t know about, or even more mysterious boons, like fortunes, curses or rituals.

From a DM’s perspective, the Caravan is untethered and wandering all the time, so part of its brilliance is you can pop it into a adventure or keep it out at your leisure. Also consider that the Caravan is easily justified as dropping off or picking up experts from around the world at any time; the beastmaster they learned Mounted Combat from two months ago jumped off the wagon and may not be there any more when next they meet. Further, consider containing the amount of gypsies you equip in the Caravan at any one meeting—the Caravan might be fun, and lucky, but too many options and NPCs can bog down the flow of your game. Always keep it moving, just like the emcee hollers.

So here we go, the first character in a list of optional huskers to add to your game.

The Appraiser

Gems and art have sort of lost a part of their luster since previous editions. The fact of the matter is that appraisal is a skill that is so recondite that it doesn’t really fit well into the category of exciting adventure. Or does it?

The Appraiser can take an assessment of a party’s stock of artwork, jewelry and gems in order to offer an in-game benefit that they can actually use. An Appraiser, however, may not always be the most honest sort. When a DM pronounces to a group of heroes they’ve found a finely dodecahedric-cut ruby, two wax-polished brimstone onyxes, and 25 small but perfect gleaming bench-beveled cut sapphires with sterling silver inlay core-reduced with — yeah yeah yeah, they just want to know the gold piece value so they can liquidate it into funds for magic items that they actually want!

The Appraiser knows this too, and can offer the players a chance to put his talents to good use in other ways. The Appraiser isn’t necessarily out to take advantage of the PCs, but purchasing all the junk the PCs haul in could end up gaining a lot of cash for such an expert, and in the mean time, the PCs could learn something. Consider an interaction with the Appraiser more like expert advice, but only if they understand it all. Don’t think I didn’t take some tips from The Antique Road Show for this either!

If the party would like to have their wares appraised, they must first pay for the Appraiser’s services. An appropriate amount for such services would be in the neighborhood of the price of a consumable magic item of the party’s level minus 2 (if you didn’t know, a consumable item is typically one fifth of the price of a regular magic item of the same level). A party of level of 11 would then expect to pay an Appraiser 840 gp. While the Appraiser is estimating the party’s valuables, a single character can make a Dungeoneering check. The result indicates how much the character gleans from the Appraiser’s evaluations about their loot. Compare the check result with the DC in each of the Alternative Rewards listed below, giving the player the reward of the highest DC they reached.

Side Note on Dungeoneering: This check for a Caravan Peddler represents a character’s understanding of the true value in gemstones, art objects, luxury and adventuring items, as well as oddities and trade goods. Why Dungeoneering and not History or Arcana? Well, we could parse out each piece of treasure and target a specific skill that makes sense for each, but this seldom used skill seems to incorporate a panoply of things outside of the usual. Other than the direct connection to mining for precious stones and metals, Dungeoneering also encompasses knowledge of survival and of creatures from the Far Realm. Either way, it is up to the DM if they would like to honor a different skill for this check.

The Appraiser is suitable for characters from 7th to 17th level. At 17th level, the appraisal cost would be 5,000 gp, the exact amount of the boon gained by hitting the hard DC. Still, if the hard DC isn’t reached, that character would be out 4,000 gp, and that might bruise the purse, even at that level. If they don’t even make the DC of the middle item, they’d be out even more. If a character was higher than 17th level, they would be losing money no matter what the outcome (until we publish a higher level Caravan Appraiser that is!). A character of 6th level is going to have a pretty mediocre chance of even hitting the lower level item’s DC, and at 168 gp for the service, they’d still be losing out quite a bit.

The Appraiser uses an idea of fixed DCs and comparable fixed rewards instead of variable DCs that might scale better in level, therefore, tread carefully and give the players a decent explanation of the risks. In essence, a visit with the Appraiser ends up being nothing more than a gamble, but it can still provide a character with a significant advantage when they need it, especially those versed in the ways of Dungeoneering.

So, in terms of concept the players aren’t actually gaining any value on the gems or art they found in their pile of loot, per se. The check represents  more of an abstract education of something from the Appraiser, and then taking away that knowledge for use at a later time, probably in a more dire predicament. The DCs and amount the players must pay for the expert’s services should, on average, net them a little value, but cost them a little coin.

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