You know the joke about level 20 shop keeps to keep murder hobos in line? What about like an actual reason for a level 20 something shopkeeper? Like a retired adventurer selling off the contents of their many bags of holding. Great place to get magic gear, plenty of potential adventure hooks, and a retired adventurer would have a great many connections.
Shopkeep: Agiviv Stoneeye, The Alchemist under the Hill
The title? It’s my little joke, I always said I’d be in my grave before I gave up on the great work, so after I retired I found myself a cozy little barrow in which to continue my studies. Still brings a smile to my stiff old jaw each time I think about it.
Setup: The Sad truth is that age catches up to everyone, even heroes, and those that live the adventurers life tend to age faster than most. If it isn't the life sapping curses or the devouring jaws of beasts that get you, it's the slow accumulation of innumerable breaks, stabs, burns, and mishaps that accumulate in a body along with years of hard wear and stress.
Such was the case for Agiviv and his companions, a once celebrated band of heroes who saved the world in their own small way before settling into happy obscurity. After their mission was done each wanted different things, some family, some to return to the duties they left behind, but for Agiviv the whole point of adventuring was to secure the means by which he could continue his studies, and by the gods did he ever find it.
While each of his retiring friends took a hero's share of their accumulated wealth Agiviv (who served as the group's quartermaster) ensured he was left holding the bags: the bags of holding containing years of accumulated treasure, crafting ingredients, and dungeon junk. Settling in one of the first dungeons cleared by his companions, close enough to a town to make a supply run but not so close that he’d be bothered with neighbors, the old Orc now works away happily on all the projects he never got around to during his life on the road.
Joke as you would about alchemists and their search for gold, Agiviv was always the most business minded of his companions, and has spent the intervening years setting up storefronts in several major population centers across the kingdom. Each one is minded by one of his apprentices, who discuss the needs of customers as they enter and browse through catalogs before popping into the back room to secure the stock. These “back rooms” are in fact portals to Agiviv’s workshop, where the apprentices can clear any important transaction with their boss or shift down to one of the many storerooms to retreive the stock. When the party visit their local “Stoneye’s Alchemics” only to have its attendant disappear for a protracted period of time, their curiosity may lead them to intrude upon the workshop and begin to poke around where they don’t belong. Depending on whether they decide to do a smash and grab or actually investigate the disappearance, they may later encounter a very angry Agaviv or one thankful to them for saving an apprentice that’d fallen victim to a long unnoticed mimic.
Given his talents lay in the crafting of potions and other alchemical wonders, Agaviv is more than happy to part with various bits of armor, enchanted weapons, and miscellaneous doodads too impractical to be of any use in his research. One of these items happens to be a very dangerous book that Agaviv accidentally mislabeled saving it from his “Very cursed do not sell” Pile. Sold to the party as a genuinely useful and benign object, the group’s spellcaster may only learn of it’s true nature after it has become attuned.
Though the dungeon Agiviv claims as his home was cleared out years ago, one wing of it has become infested with pests, which the shopkeeper may send the party to clear out as a bit of a nostalgic lark. What he doesn’t suspect is that these creatures actually crept out of a portal to the underdark, and their reckless burrowing has created a fissure that the party will inevitably fall down and will be forced to climb their way back to the material plane. After braving an unusually long road of trials, Agiviv will be shocked to realize he’s going to have to move or risk his entire operation falling into the world beneath.
Adventure: A Wager Among the Waves
Never try to cheat a dragon, not only are they sore losers, whatever game you’re playing you’re playing it by their rules.
Having traveled to Port Sweldin in order to catch a ship, the party get to enjoy a few days enjoying the picturesque beachtown while waiting for a vessel known to be traveling to their destination. Sweldin boasts of lively boardwalk amusements, charming market streets, and a thriving artist community that caters to both tourists and wealthy folk summering
All seems to be going well until early on the morning of their fourth day when the party assembles to see their ship come in only to watch as it suddenly begins to sink out in the harbor. Rescue boats are dispatched ( which the party may be pressganged into) but the effort is interrupted when a grey scaled dragon launches from the waters below and delivers an ultimatum to those gathered to watch the chaos: His name is Xemplaris, and he is there to claim their shore by right of challenge as the town once challenged him long ago. Before he leaves, he claims that he will sink any ship he sees out on the water, throwing Sweldin into chaos and preventing the party from reaching their long sought destination.
No one has any idea how the port managed to anger a dragon, but when the party investigates a few miles up the shore they find that the chalenge they’re expected to meet him in is not combat, but an elaborate game. Xemplaris has smoothed out the beach and drawn in a grid, arranging his side of it with large stones and giant shells. Apparently he expects the party to source their own pieces before he tells them the rules, which will require them to go savaging above and below the tideline to find the assortment of oversized tokens needed to compete. The dragon will take great amusement in this, and may engage them in conversation as they thrash about in the surf. during which they may be able to piece together why the beast is doing all this beyond just draconic greed.
Setup: Several hundred years ago, Beryl Sweldin was a dwarven huckster entrepreneur in search of his next con venture, after being chased out to the coast after his most recent scam enterprise went belly up. Born the son of an imperial scout and surveyor, Sweldin knew a good patch of land when he saw it, and stumbled across a stretch of shore that with a little dredging and other sorts of management would make a fine deepwater port. The only problem was that this stretch of land was inhabitted by a young dragon, who’d grown up alone among the dunes, lairing in the shell of some massive sea-beast that’d long ago died on the beach. Already large enough to pose a threat, Sweldin cozied up to the young Xemplaris, offering him shiny trinkets to earn his trust and persuading the innocent creature that he was a friend. After that, the draogn was just another mark, and Sweldin was going to fleece him of everything he had. Sweldin devised a game and taught it to the dragon, wagering coins and baubles along each match and instilling the young wyrm with an undersanding that games like these were binding and one must always abide by their outcome. Naturally Sweldin was cheating, adding more rules and complications to the game each time that the dragon could get caught up in. After half a year of this grift, Seldin eventually tricked Xemplaris into wagering the entire beach and the giant shell which served as his home, and when the little dragon lost he went away weeping.
After that it was easy for Sweldin to bilk a few inverters into his new project, as deepwater ports were sure to be big business. His grand house still sits on a hill overlooking what he made, its floors and couryard tiled with fragments from a great leviathan’s shell hauled up from the shore.
The Shore game is played in an 8x8 grid, with players taking turns to deploy their pieces anywhere across the first three rows infront of them. The game is often played in sand, and while the grid should be as straight as possible the topography does not need to be even.
Pieces are as follows:
8 roundish stones, all the same color: the main playing piece of the game, these pieces can only be moved two squares at a time. They can also be “flicked” at another piece to remove it from play. If the stone lands its hit, the struck piece is removed and the stone stays in, taking the removed piece’s postion ,were as if flies off the board without making contact it is considered out. Xemplaris requires stones for his game to be large enough for HIM to flick, meaning that for the average humanoid they are improvised weapons with a range increment of 5/15
4 tall shells: These pieces serve as the primary goals of the game, with a player losing once all 4 of their shells have been knocked down. These Shells cannot be moved once placed, and after they fall, no piece can be placed on the spaces into 2 spaces into which they have fallen. Xemplaris uses the figureheads of different ships he’s salvaged as his point counters, and is very proud of them.
2 Flat shells: These shells move like chess knights, leaping over other pieces. If they land on an enemy piece (including a tall shell) that piece is out, but if they land on a friendly stone, that stone is protected and cannot be taken if struck ( the flat shell needs to be struck first to remove it). Xemplaris uses giant chunks of coral for these pieces.
1 Stick: The stick is three grid spaces long can be placed wherever the owner wants it provided there is not another piece in the way, including digging it into the sand at an angle. The stick is not removed when it is struck by stones, and stones cannot be placed into spaces the stick occupies ( though the flat shell can still remove it). Xemplaris uses an entire driftwood trunk as his stick.
2 Shiny tokens: Not placed on the board, these tokens amount to an attempted “do over” allowing you to retake a shot or force an opponent to retake one of theirs. If the do-over is successful, the one who called for the do-over has to give the other player one of their tokens. Regardless of the outcome of the game, whoever’s holding the tokens keeps them after the game is over. Xemplaris’s tokens are a pair of shimmering gems, and expects the party to ante something equally valuable which may require them to haggle with a jewler back in port. The dragon will also allow one of the challengers to ante their eyes in place of tokens, taking vindictive pleasure in making them wager something precious to them.
The players take turns moving two of their pieces at a time, though only the roundish stones can be used twice in the same round ( first moving, then flicking). Play ends when one player has all their pointy shells knocked over, or when both players are out of stones to toss, in which case the player with the most pointy shells standing wins. in the event of a tie, the player with the most tokens wins, after which the game is a draw.
The world was not kind to Xemplaris after he was evicted, and for centuries the dragon has nursed a shameful sorrow that slowly transmuted into hate when he matured and realized the dwarf had cheated him. Deeply hurt and fixated on winning his home back, the dragon has spent years codifying Sweldin’s nonsense game into something he considers fair, subconsciously convinced that if he could beat the long dead huckster he could undo the hurt he suffered after losing his home and fending for himself in the wider world. His wager is simple: if he loses, he won’t destroy the port in an act of draconic wrath. If he wins: The port is his, and everyone else needs to leave or risk being burned alive. Xemplaris sees this as justice for the exile he was forced to endure, nevermind how unbalanced the scales might be.
With his new found fortune, Sweldin married into the prosperous Stouthull clan, and used their combined influences over the newly forming town to invest heavily in shipping. The vessel the party were set to sail on belonged to the Stouthulls, which gives Sweldin’s decendants a perfect excuse to aim the party at Xemplaris in order to buy time to rally their defences and secure their assets. They knew the dragon was coming after all, Sweldin had told his children about the centuries long graceperiod he’d gotten the dragon to agree on before their next “rematch” and it was kept as family secret while they prepared various countermeasures. The Stouthulls promise the party a fortune to just kill the dragon if they can, or delay long enough for them to ready wyrmkilling construct and enchanted balista they’d had prepared for just such an occasion.
If Xemplaris loses his game, he’ll fly into a rage, a half millennia of regret pouring through him and spurring him to rampage through town, tearing apart buildings desperate to find the shell that was once his only shelter. If the party can’t talk him down, they or the Stouthulls will have to kill him, being hailed for heroes in their part but always being haunted by the wyrm’s last words: “ It’s not fair, I just wanted my home back, It’s not fair, It’s not fair”
If the party do manage to talk Xemplaris down ( what port city wouldn’t want to have a draconic protector on the naval payroll?) and eventually return to Port Sweldin, they’ll find that the populace has gone a bit mad for the Shore Game, playing a table-sized version on the boardwalk and at the biweekly tournament hosted outside the dragon’s new beachside lair. The heroes will of course have made an enemy of the Southull clan but honestly, who’d pick a pack of greedy, murderous merchants over having a boardgame playing dragon friend?