Fairly early in Felltower's development as a campaign I added a powerful sorcerer NPC to town. This is obviously inspired by fiction, previous gaming, pretty much every video game, and all of my own prior game. "The big, powerful, and mysterious wizard" is a gaming staple. Far be it from me to rock the boat on that one, especially since I like that staple a lot. It's so useful as a GM.
But sometime it's annoying as can be to the GM, too. Once you've got a powerful wizard around, the players have a strong temptation to either depend on, or defer to, that powerful wizard. Whether you put in the wizard as a Player Smackdown NPC, some kind of GMPC, as a deux ex machina, or even just as an in-town shop ("Go to (A) the Armourer, (B) Black Jan's Magicke Shoppe, or (X) Exit Town") it's tempting to expand the role.
After all, if this guy is so tough, he could beat that dragon up. Or clear that tough room. Or loan us some magic items to do the job.
And if we can't think of anything to do, maybe that guy will hire us.
And if we gussy up this junk, maybe the wizard will buy it. He bought that one thing that one time, and that guy in that other game bought newt eyes, so this guy will buy these collector's item orc necklaces for sure!
My own Black Jans, Wizard of the Dark Marches, Seer of the Deep Sorrows, Archwizard of Kant, etc. etc. has occasionally been seen as more than he/she/it's intended to be.
So what isn't Black Jans for, and what is Black Jans for?
Black Jans Isn't
He/she/it isn't a provider of:
- higher prices
The common thread here is, Black Jans isn't driving the game. You can't just drop in and see if Black Jans needs stuff done. Or find out what special items he/she/it is looking for. Or ask to learn a spell. Or to try to dicker up the prices you got in town ("Hey, the cursed idol is only worth 1000 silver. How much would Black Jans pay for it?")
While Black Jans will buy weird magic items, cursed items still usable to curse someone ("Here, read this" or "Here is a present for no reason, look right at it as you open it close to your face!"), and so on, Jans is not really a magic shop. It's more like Black Jans is a justification for putting a monetary value on these items and explaining where they go.
After all, why would someone want a cursed scroll or potions of delusion? And once it's bought, how come we don't hear about someone in town getting warped into a slugbeast or jumping off a roof because they were sure they could fly? Black Jans is the answer - Cashamashian wizards are clearly jerks to each other, Cashamash is far away, and stuff that is purchased just goes off the map and out of play. So the reason that cursed idol is worth 1000 silver pieces is because that's what you can get for it - and it's either Black Jans or an agent of Black Jans making the offer. If I wanted the actual interaction, the buying price would be, "Go see Black Jans."
It's also important that Black Jans doesn't become a quest machine, because then I'm not offering up rewards for player-driven actions but instead driving play. Why should you ever set your own agenda if someone will set it for you and stack a reward on top for following it? Unless there is a cost, it's foolish not to do this.
Black Jans and any other powerful wizard could offer up incentives for the players to do things, but if the players can't ask, they can't take a "wait and see what Peter's NPC says we should do" approach on their direction. They need to just go and do things and let the rumor table tell them if there is a bonus for certain actions. And a possible cost.
A GM tip is embedded here - make sure quests come with rewards and costs if you want to drive players away from them. "Oh sure, Black Jans will give us something to do - but then we'll have to split the reasonable reward eight ways while Jans gets the artifact of ludicrous power and/or sale price!"
The other GM tip is to have a cost for annoying the wizard. Reaction Rolls are good here. I roll for Black Jans. You might get a +1 to +5 for bringing some cool item to his tower for sale, or get a -5 or worse for bringing junk or just trying to foist off something you could have sold in town but didn't like the price of. Roll badly, and you might get ejected without restraint, and suffer consequences from then forward. Flat out "I stopped by to see if you needed anything" is a roll for consequences ranging from a polite "no" to an impolite "get out." This shouldn't be so random it's a risk to try to sell something, but rather random enough that the reward for the correct approach is between good and great, and the reward for pushing it is from bad to worse.
Black Jans Is
- a justification for certain items having a sale price
- a way to get rid of certain items once they've served their purpose (which means, see if someone falls for the curse)
- a chance to get magic items now, if you can't be bothered with special orders
- a way to introduce weirdness or uniqueness from outside the play area
Like I said, this is why cursed items have a sale price. This is why you could, potentially, sell a Bell of D'Abo in town even though it's powerless anywhere but in the Lost City and of specific, limited use there. It's why this stuff goes away once you take the money.
It's also why I can say, yes, you can get that sword made Puissance +1 right now, for double cost, if I make the appearance roll for Black Jans's tower. I won't need to explain how that happens, because it's some powerful wizard who isn't always around, not a standard feature of the enchantment system.
And it's a way to potentially stick weird stuff into the game if I want to. This is just an establish background fact - weird wizards, towers that just show up and go away along with the terrain around them in totally reality-warping ways, odd cities you won't go to but which drive some action - to let me throw things in if I need them. It's a stub-end, an insertion point, and an explanation for the erratic and unpredictable nature of introductions. If I add something - new spells, new enchantments, weird races, whatever - Black Jans can be a source or just a prior example of the same. The world isn't just a static town with static stores - it's abstract but not unchanging.