5 Tips for Making a Quick and Fun Marketplace in Dungeons and Dragons

Marketplaces can be a wonderful way to showcase the town that you created for your campaign. In many modern and medieval settlements alike the marketplace, the main drag, the town square, or whatever you want to call it serves as a central meeting place for villagers, merchants and nobility alike - and no two are exactly the same.

A while ago we looked at some tips on mapping out a medieval town, and today we're going to continue that idea, and look at how to quickly populate a market with interesting encounters so you can get on with your story.

1. Poll the Audience

A running theme in most of my D&D advice is talk to your players. The same holds true for if you're mapping out a market! One of the first things I like to do is ask my players this question:

"Is there any item, piece of equipment or service that your character is looking to purchase in town?"

I usually ask this before they reach the town in question, and give them a couple of days to think on it. I then try to add the requests into my market. Of course, I don't give them everything that they asked for, and I often modify their requests by changing the item slightly, so that it's not exactly what they had expected. But either way, this helps you add some useful items to your market that your players will appreciate.

Sausage, anyone?

2. Make a Table

The next thing that I like to do is take a few of the items my players requested, and then create a table of ten items, including their price range (my guys like to negotiate), and then use that as a small encounter table.

For example in my Age of Heroes Campaign, I recently created this table of interesting items that could be found in the City of Delphi:

*Just a note that prices are in Drachma, Obol, and Copper Bits, rather than the standard Gold, Silver and Copper.*

1) Embroidered Long Chitons from Knossos (5dr)
2) Amphora (clay jars) depicting Theramenes Wrestling champion of Olympic Games. (8dr)
3) A Bronze Helm of a Spartan design with a bright red Galea. (10dr)
4) A Lyre from Corinth (50dr)
5) A Box of scrolls containing Athenian philosophy (16dr)
6) A Map of the Island of Delphi (5dr)
7) An Iron Roman Gladius (15dr)
8) A Bronze Breast plate, could have been made anywhere (70dr)
9) A Holy Amulet of Aphrodtie, pressed in solid gold! (100dr)
10) A large nestled egg that the seller claims is a Pegasus egg, and will hatch if brought to the top of the Delphic Mount Olympus. (180dr)

Some of the items are a slightly fancier version of the normal item, others may potentially lead to side quests and the like. 

Whether you roll on this table, or simply read down the list doesn't matter, just make sure that your players have a chance to witness the unique and interesting objects that your market may hold.

Consulting the manual for some inspiration never hurts either.

3. Open a Few Shops

While travelling merchants come and go, every town will always have a few permanent shops: The blacksmith, The baker, The leather worker etc. These are businesses that can easily operate year round within a town, and that the players can always shop at - as long as they are open.

So take a minute a make another little list for yourself about the permanent businesses in town, who runs them, and what their specialty is. As a DM this should give you enough to work with if/when your players decide to interact with that shopkeeper, and for players: the familiar faces in town may even some day become welcoming friends.

This guy's always open.

4. Calculate the Odds

One of the most tedious tasks in creating a market is populating it with the mundane items. Sure we know what our players want - a few of the unique and interesting items that can be found among the shops - and we even have an idea of what kind of stores and thus what kind of merchandise is regularly available. 

However, shops usually sell more than one item, and it can be a chore to add every conceivable piece of inventory (and their prices), which just translates into a lot of work over a very small part of your campaign. And while I am guilty of fully fleshing out markets so that they are positively bristling with wares, there is an easier way.

What I like to do is create what I call a Supply and Demand Stat for the marketplace. This is the percent chance rolled on a d100 that the market will have what a player is looking for... Within reason. 

So using my city of Delphi, it's Supply and Demand Stat I figured to be around 75%. So there is a 75% chance that the market will hold what the players are looking for. Now of course this doesn't mean there is a 75% chance of finding a Vorpal Sword in the market (that would for sure be part of our 10 unique items), but more that there is a 75% chance of finding any standard piece of equipment found in the players handbook. Since Delphi is a large city - and a Kingdom's capital in my Arachnophobia World - it has a high Supply and Demand Stat. A small village, or a recently looted town will have a much lower stat.

This practice gives players a reason to seek out the larger markets to find those more obscure items in the Player's Handbook. And as a DM, you should use this stat fairly - and only when you think an item may have a chance of being unavailable. So players likely won't have any trouble finding fishing equipment in a coastal village, but if they are looking for mountaineering gear, that would prompt a roll against the Supply and Demand Stat.

Excuse me friend, but do you know where I can buy a Vorpal Sword?

5. Add Some Encounters

This is what D&D is all about right? Encountering something interesting, hostile, or just downright weird, and then figuring out what to do about it. A marketplace is a great space to have fun with a different sort of encounter.

Since you are unlikely to be battling monsters in broad daylight, in the middle of a peaceful village square (I said it's unlikely, not impossible), these encounters are better suited to introducing quests, characters, and general world information. So Town Criers giving a lay of the land, Messiahs preaching from soap boxes, and fallen Generals begging for help are great ways to start new quests - and help your players explore your world.

If you're looking for a little bit more action, marketplaces are a great way to introduce your Thief's Guild through pick-pockets and muggers. For a more light heartened encounter, jesters, street performers, and thespians are wonderful ways to add some colour to your setting - and let your players roleplay in a safe space. And who knows, Grug the Half-Orc Barbarian might be really into the theatre. You will never know unless you put it there for your players to explore.

Don't go over board with these encounters. Too many possible quests will simply overwhelm your group, and you will have ended up doing a lot of work for nothing. What I have found is that only 1-3 of these marketplace encounters are really needed to keep a place fresh.

Grug ended up being really into the theatre.

So that's how I make a quick market for my players to explore. First I get some ideas, then I think about the unique Items around the market that my players might find interesting. I think about what sort of shops are going to be there, who runs them, and what they're good at creating or selling. Then, I think about how large and popular the market is and the sort of items that would be scarce, and I figure out my Supply and Demand Stat. Finally, I bring the market to life by adding a handful of encounters to keep my group interested while they shop.

How do you make marketplaces in your D&D campaign?

Written by: Andrew Gregory

Image Sources:  https://www.pinterest.com

5 Tips for Making a Quick and Fun Marketplace in Dungeons and Dragons 5 Tips for Making a Quick and Fun Marketplace in Dungeons and Dragons Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 4/19/2019 10:23:00 am Rating: 5


  1. Love the article!! Especially the market encounters. I did a while to learn those things :) Wish I had this article earlier. If you want, I wrote a generator for more "normal", tedious to write up traders. [Generate Trader]

  2. Great things you’ve always shared with us. Just keep writing this kind of posts.The time which was wasted in traveling for tuition now it can be used for studies.Thanks Gamer Dice

  3. Good stuff. Added to the Blog Database.