Many dungeon masters, this writer included, devote considerable effort toward creating believable settings for our players. Often, the bulk of this activity is directed toward applying real history to our settings, such as basing the layout of our abandoned ruins after Ancient Greek or Roman buildings, incorporating historical Medieval entertainments and crafts into our fantasy communities, and so forth.
Bringing real-world elements into our fantasy games has advantages, the chief among them being that players are residents of the real world, and can therefore readily relate to those elements. In focusing primarily on real-world elements, though, dungeon masters can forget the value of incorporating fantasy elements and reminding players that their heroes live in a fantasy world.
One way of striking a balance between real-world believability and fantasy involves placing businesses in campaign settlements that rely on magic in order to function. A brief review of the various character powers and rituals presented in the fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook provide a wealth of inspiration for such businesses; four sample businesses of this nature are outlined below.
Friana’s Icehouse. After learning how hazardous adventuring can be, the wizardess Friana decided to find a far less dangerous occupation in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan, sub-tropical cities. By utilizing various cold-related powers and magic items, Friana turns water into ice, which she then sells in various forms. The ice is stored in a riverside icehouse built of wood. The structure’s walls are made from two concentric lines of wooden planking, with a layer of sawdust packed between them to act as insulation.
Her clientele consists of noble and trading houses that use the ice for cooling beverages and preserving fresh foods, although a few enterprising street vendors have asked her to freeze small quantities of wine and fruit juices into the equivalent of Medieval Popcicles, which are sold in the sweltering market squares.
Lately, Frianna has created a new social custom to further enhance her business: the icemeet. In short, icemeets are noontime parties held in wealthy homes, in rooms specially prepared for the purpose. Generally, these rooms are either underground or insulated in much the same way as the icehouse, and ice sculptures (made by Friana freezing water she poured into molds) are placed strategically about the place. The cool air created by the thawing ice and the cold or frozen menu items served at these parties provide a welcome break from the midday heat, and Friana has grown increasingly wealthy since promoting the custom, as nobles seek to outdo each other in the size and grandeur of their icemeets.
Aquelos’ Water Services. Aquelos is a very accomplished wizard, who discovered a ritual for summoning and binding water elementals. Turning this ritual into a business opportunity, Aquelos secured a stone building near a lakeshore, near the city’s wealthy district. He has imprisoned four water elementals in the structure. One of these elementals is tasked with forcing water from the lake into large holding tanks; the second is commanded to heat the water in one of the tanks, and the last two are tasked with forcing water from the holding tanks into pipes that lead to the villas of Aquelos’ wealthy customers, who pay each month for hot and cold running water.
Magical Missives. Through use of the Linked Portal ritual, the eladrin sorceress Norini transports messages or, at a client’s request, the messengers themselves, via magic to other cities. It is public knowledge that Norini has established “portal offices” in every major city of the continent, that she only allows messages or messengers to use the service, and that her clients’ activities are held in the strictest confidence.
Although she doesn’t publicize it, Norini will also create portals for influential clients, portals that exist for their respective use only. Typically, these clients are governments or religions, and their exclusive portals lead to military camps, prominent temples, government buildings and similar areas. Norini usually doesn’t charge for this service, instead asking that the clients provide security for her “public” portals in the clients’ areas of influence.
Hrithgar’s Dungeon and Monstrous Managerie. Constructed in the continent’s largest and most opulent city, Hrithgar’s Dungeon and Monstrous Managerie provides the “adventuring experience” for those who are obviously unfit for such journeys. The business started when Hrithgar, a dragonborn warrior, used his savings from a life of adventure to buy a ruin outside the city, which he intended to restore. During the restoration, it was discovered that an ancient dungeon, sealed off from the outside world, existed beneath the ruin. Hrithgar and his adventuring companions cleared the dungeon, then realized that it could make an interesting attraction for wealthy citizens.
Through use of permanent magical lighting and judicious use of magical walls of force, the adventurers were able to create a gentle, even path through the dungeon that protected walkers from anything that may be in the halls. The group then brought captured beasts, constructs, and even evil humanoids to the complex, releasing them to interact. Provisions and equipment are dropped off for the inhabitants on a regular basis.
For a not-so-modest fee, people can walk through a real dungeon and see real monsters in complete safety; in a matter of weeks, it became the most popular social activity in the city.
Hrithgar’s party is now almost continually engaged in trying to find and capture exotic creatures to populate his dungeon, and it is well-known that he hires adventurers to retrieve creatures for this purpose.
The potential for using powers and rituals as a basis for commercial interest is almost limitless. If you’ve used such a business in your campaigns, consider describing it in a comment below, for the purposes of inspiring other dungeon masters.