Looking Over Book of Challenges: Chuk's Magik Shoppe


It's just cover art

Premise

An itinerant bugbear has a (fake) magic shop to swindle would-be customers.


Good

There are plenty of adventures that could be spun out of “crooked shop owner uses their business as a front for selling goods they’ve stolen”. They’re probably all better than this one, but I’ll give it credit for using a good basic concept.


I’m not the biggest fan of the always-alert familiar watching for interlopers, but that’s a better way of justifying the creatures’ preparedness than just because.


While I question how well some of them apply here, the advice on different tricks for cheating people is useful for a broad range of situations. Knowing them may even help to protect oneself in real life.


Salvageable

Having a magic shop show up randomly isn’t going to fool most players, no matter how well the GM can pull of the sales pitch. Thus, this whole encounter doesn’t really work unless magic shops are a regular presence in the setting, the PCs have reason to believe that something they want is in this shop, they’re referred to it by an NPC who they trust, or some other extra context along similar lines predisposes them against being suspicious.


Even if Chuk can’t learn spells beyond 1st-level, there’s no reason why he can’t prepare some of the other 1st-level spells he knows. Enlarge, hold portal, identify, magic weapon, magical aura, and reduce all have obvious potential applications.


While I’ve praised the simple tactics outlines in some other encounters, that’s because they involved some modicum of thought. This one spends a large paragraph to say “they all attack”. Giving Chuk some more spell variety would help spice that up, too.


Selling what few legitimate magic items Chuk has at a discount feels very strange. Part of me wonders if the formula for the price wasn’t supposed to be (1d20 + 5) x 5%, (1d12 + 10) x 5%, or (1d12 + 5) x 10% to at least give him some chance at overpricing.


Bad

The first two paragraphs of the intro are highly repulsive to me on a metagame level.


Those few players for whom the simple existence of the magic shop wasn’t a massive red flag will surely be alerted by the ridiculous opening statement from Chuk.


The Punny Names for Chuk’s helpers hurt me to read.


Without having done any extensive math, I feel confident saying that Chuk is vastly overestimated at CR7.


We’re to believe that this creature of explicitly-average Intelligence and Wisdom figured out how to make multiple potions that grant extra benefits to bugbears and act as poisons for anyone else? If my suspension of disbelief hadn’t been shattered before, it’d be broken now.


Overall

I’ve dreaded having to do this one from the start of this series, because so much about it feels like anathema to the way I like to play TTRPGs. I think there’s an important underlying implication to Clarke’s Third Law that’s often overlooked: whether something feels like “technology” or “magic” is dependent on how well it’s understood, quantified, etc. from the audience’s perspective. The allomancy in the Mistborn books starts out magical, but the boundaries and properties are so well-defined and communicated so transparently to the reader that it shifts into becoming a known technology quite quickly, regardless of how impossible it is in our reality. The combat droids in the Star Wars prequel trilogy or the titular cyborgs in the Terminator franchise are built on understood technology within the setting, but their unrelatable foreignness to the audience makes them feel more akin to products of necromancy than of manufacturing. By having a magic shop, even a fake one, some element of what makes a magic item magical is lost.


Putting all that baggage aside as best as I can, what we’re left with still isn’t anything good. The set-up throws out so many red flags that I’d never expect anyone to fall for it, which leaves an underwhelming combat with almost nothing on the line. Yet even if the players do take it at face value, the items offered don’t look like they’d really be of interest for an EL 7 party, so their reward for playing along is just to have their time wasted. The whole thing feels like bad filler.


All in all, the only redeeming points about this encounter are the broad-view interpretation of the basic concept and the advice on manipulation tricks. Everything else about it is trash.

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