First, some backstory. I made a bunch of fireworks (here and here) and I have a tradition of giving players a freebie on their actual birthday. One of my players chose some fireworks for his gift. Then, his character Gino managed to successfully use those to survive a cave full of stirges. So, the first city he came to he wanted to buy more fireworks. Thinking this might be an opportunity for some sort of eventual hijinks, I had an npc tell him "why buy individual fireworks when they're auctioning off whole barges?" So, Gino got a merchant's license and then a few weeks later (in real life) showed up for the auction.
I did have a quick bit at the end of a previous session where fireworks from each barge were sampled and it was determined how much water damage they had. It turned out there were three barges: one with 10% water damage, one with 50%, and one undamaged.
The Interested parties
Gino knew how much money he had and what he wanted but what to do with the other players? I had them take on the roles of the other interested parties. So first, I had each of them roll up their npc on my Hireling trait chart. They're familiar with this chart and so are pretty comfortable using it and find interpreting the traits that come up amusing.
We also rolled on the Court Fad of the Day chart (from Vaults of Nagoh, but I can't find it there now) which turned out to be people carrying poles around, the longer the more fashionable. So I had players roll how long their poles were. It was ridiculous and we were all laughing, the characters lugging around their 13ft fashion statements.
One of the things that makes D&D unique is that it's one of the few types of collaborative play I know of. Because of this it's always important to me when trying to devise mini-games that they not pit player versus player. Seriously, every night we hang out that we don't play D&D we play a game that's PVP, so there is no lack of that in our lives.
So, if the other players were going to be Gino's competition, how did they provide that campetition without just trying to outbid him. And because the amount of money these npcs have is determined by me (or random roll, but still I'd be setting the parameters) how could any kind of bidding auction be fair for Gino's player? My solution was the multiple barges of varying quality and giving the npcs differing, but not mutually exclusive goals. Basically, players could work together to get portions of a barge if they wanted and still succeed. The four goals were:
- You're under great pressure to win one of these barges with your own money but you don't want to. Make it look like you tried to buy one but fail. 10,000 sp
- You need some fireworks for an upcoming festival but you're low on funds. Get some fireworks. 1000 sp
- It would be amusing to have some fireworks. But buying the damaged barges would be beneath your station. Aquire some fireworks from the non-damaged barges. 10,000 sp
- You think you can sell the water damaged fireworks to an alchemist. Acquire one of the barges with damaged fireworks. 3,000 sp
I didn't really know what Gino would do. So I wanted it possible for him, at the very least, to acquire a portion of fireworks or maybe the most damaged barge. In other words, this all started from him wanting fireworks. I didn't want this elaborate mini-game to end up making that impossible.
To facilitate deal-making between the interested parties I gave players ~15 minutes before the auction started to talk to each other in-character.
I also offered 100xp to any player that made their goal. I know this is bizarre for D&D, to give a character xp for something some random npc did. In this case, I just wanted something toget them interested and engaged and it worked.
I can't remember all the details now. I started out with very small bids and later, at the suggestion of players made the bid jumps higher to speed things up. From my notes, it looks like the barges went for 3,500 sp, 2,025 sp, and 5,700 sp (I'm sorry, I don't remember which barges were which). I do remember the player with goal one unintentionally won the bid on the first barge and then was a spoiler, bidding wildly in the subsequent 2 exchanges. I think she won the second barge and only lost the last one after bidding it up. (yes that looks right, if she'd spent 5025 of her 10,000, that last barge would have been just out of her reach).
I think Gino ended up cutting a deal with the player with goal 3 who had a lot of cash and the easiest goal to make. Neither of the remaining two players made their goals either.
The players wanted to find out who was forcing the woman to buy a barge she didn't want and punish them somehow. I had no idea who it was and felt weird about the whole thing because their characters should have no idea that this woman that just bought two barges didn't want them. That is something in the back of my brain now though, maybe it will come together with other threads in the future.
Now Gino has hundreds of fireworks, what's going to become of them? Well, he has a group of lepers building a barge for an upcoming religious regatta, and he just hired someone to fit it with a bunch of tubes, so stay tuned.