general store

Making Better DnD Towns: The General Store

In DnD there is no place more well-tread for players than the general store. Adventuring supplies, rations, and goods of all types typically come from some general shop in most campaigns. While it can be tempting to consider these shops as a catch-all for any non-specialty good, they have a lot more to offer than you might think. Let’s look at exactly what goes into making a general store for DnD.

What is a General Store?

A general store in DnD is not really for adventures. While in game they function as the place where players end up getting most of their miscellaneous gear, general stores are not making most of their profits from a few wandering, would-be heroes. General stores exist for the local people in the town they’re in.

A general store usually stocks things that either cannot be made in town or would be made by someone who cannot run a store front. Their stock primarily comes from merchants and they rarely make anything on their own. When thinking about what goes into these stores’ stocks you’ll want to consider this as the basis for their selection. The needs of the people are represented here.

The reason adventures find so many good things at a general store isn’t because they cater to adventures, but because they cater to everyday workers. Rope is an important trade good. A lot of people need it, but very few towns are making it from scratch when they can simply get it from a bulk goods merchant cheaply.

Similarly, adventuring gear like rations and other trail food is typically there for day workers that travel away from the town. Loggers, hunters, and miners all need to eat and can’t keep food fresh during the work day.

Understanding this can help paint a real picture for what these stores are about. Even in the sleepiest of towns, adventures are more likely to see these as busy stores with people picking up everyday supplies like bulk flour and simple tools.

A Hub for Merchants

While a general store is primarily a shop for the town itself, it is also usually the place traveling merchants unload their wares. A good general store flourishes by establishing a rapport with traders of all types and ensuring that goods that are bought often come in on time. Running a general store is much more about efficient stock keeping and anticipating needs than it is about stacking up a bunch of knick-knacks and curiosities.

A great general store will consider its stock as a fluid commodity. Nothing should sit on the shelves too long. If no one buys an object, it is taking up space where more valuable goods could be.

This ideology helps establish an idea of what the typical traders will bring in for these stores. Knowing what the people need most often and cannot get in town tells you what the general store is requesting and what traders keep in their caravans. Keep this information in your notes for the next bandit-heavy session you run in your game.

It’s Not All Boring

While a majority of the stock of a general store is simply general, there are some exceptions to this rule. A general store might stock some items that are expensive for the town, but when needed, will sell.

This is why you might find some simple weapons, a few potions, healing salves, or various other kits around as well. These items will be kept to a minimum as they don’t generate profit regularly. But if there is a need they will be sold immediately, so a few are normal.

This rule of keeping useful stock is often bucked for a prize item of some kind. A fancy magic sword might be on display in the window. A rare book could be in a glass case behind the counter. These items, while valuable in their own right, are there for clout and capital.

The magic sword in the window is likely the priciest thing in town by a long shot, so it might be a display of wealth. A rare or unique item could be used in trading when the shop does not keep too much cash on hand. These fancy objects might even be of interest to traders that come through and could be offloaded for a larger value to the right individual.

Setting Up a General Store for DnD

Now that we know that a general store should be designed around the village and not around the needs of your players, we can start to build out what they look like.

Shop Layout

A store is often simple. It will likely be a rectangular building and more often than not will be mostly storeroom. Most people nowadays are not familiar with old fashioned general stores, but traditionally there was no browsing of shelves or perusing of goods.

The store would be a small standing area with a counter and patrons would come in and request what they wanted. By today’s standards it would seem odd, but stores once functioned more like a sandwich shop with a menu and clerk behind a counter.

Stock

When stocking your shop you are essentially making a table that you can call upon when your players want to buy something. The easiest way to fill this out is to start with the needs of the town. Smaller towns need more basics brought in, so consider your bulk goods first. Sure, your players will be unlikely to buy them, but once you list them all out you’ll have a good working inventory to call from when considering most shops in the future.

The basic staples for most towns will include some of the following:

  • Rope or Chain
  • Basic Tools
  • Flour, Grains, or Rice
  • Dry goods and Rations
  • Tinder and fire starters
  • Blankets, Cloth, and Simple Materials
  • Simple Oils, Cooking supplies, Grease
  • Nails and Basic Mechanical Supplies
  • Raw Materials, Ingots, and Bricks
  • Lighting supplies like Lamps, Candles, and Torches
  • Fishing and Hunting Supplies
  • Simple Paper, Inks, and Quills

Additionally, the shop might act as the face of local businesses that don’t have time or space to sell their goods themselves. These items might contain the following:

  • Livestock or Butchered Meat
  • Finished goods and crafts
  • Baskets, Pots, Crates, and Functional Storage

After all of these items are accounted for you can start to think about how much space would be left and if anyone in town would need basic adventuring gear. A lot of great things can be found in here, but not every general store will have climbing harnesses or thieves’ tools.

If a town is known to get a good deal of adventures traveling through it the chances of them having stock for them increases, as the shop can better expect to need to meet the demands of a particular type of customer.

From this knowledge, standard adventuring gear can be pulled from the PHB section on equipment. Keep in mind that you’re only pulling a small collection of items that are likely to be in stock. For things like weapons and armor, you should create a blacksmith as a separate shop.

Shops Size, Stock, and Wealth

The larger the town, the larger the storerooms for the establishment would be. With a larger storeroom the shop could keep and sell more items. But they don’t really need to increase the size of the reception area unless they become quite wealthy and need more room for display cases for specialty goods.

As the town’s wealth rises so too does the shop’s. While a poor town might have a shop that just sells the everyday basics, a wealthy town might have a general store that sells sugar, sweets, patterned cloth, or other fineries as demand for them increases.

Setting Prices

Setting the price of goods can be hard but there are ways to make things easier. Start by using the prices from the PHB and DMG as much as possible. These prices give you a good benchmark for your goods. When you don’t know how much an item will cost try to find a similar good to set the base price. 

A goat is a good example. We know that they cost about one gold piece. If we were selling butchered meat from the goat instead, we know the sum of that meat and materials would cost slightly more than a gold since the process of breaking it down adds to its value. Using this hypothetical framework you can estimate the cost of most goods with really quick back of the napkin calculations.

These prices that you’re pulling are just the first number you should grab for a shop. Always assume your players are going to try to haggle when you create a shop. Because of this you want to get the base price of your goods, then establish a minimum price for each good, which is the smallest amount of money that the shopkeeper has to sell a good for to make a profit on it.

After getting these two numbers you’re pretty ready for player shenanigans. But you’ll also want to know how much money your shop has on hand, just in case this would tip the scales of negotiation one way or the other. To learn more about haggling check out our article on running a shopkeeper.

A Day in the Life of a General Store Owner

General stores in any town typically keep normal hours. The more rural the town, the more that time is set by the sunrise or sunset. The hours will be extended and the shop may have shifts of clerks as shops pop up in more urban areas .

It doesn’t mean that the shop is not busy during other hours just because it’s only open for part of the day. Before the shop opens each morning the owner or a clerk is out buying supplies from various people to replenish their stocks. Someone is likely doing an inventory and preparing their day’s cash on hand for any purposes. If the store is large enough there is likely someone working stock during the day too.

Once the shop closes there is more work to be done. The books need to be kept, accounting takes place, and another inventory is performed before locking up for the night. In addition to all this there is also the most mundane of tasks: cleaning, rotating stock, filing promissory notes, and repairing the store as necessary.

While from a gameplay perspective the shop might seem to only exist when the players enter it, there is a lot of stuff that happens when they are not there. Knowing these things will help you run your stores a little better and potentially even breathe some life into your narration as you can paint a more accurate picture of the scene.

Handling The Shopping and Gameplay

Shops can be run in a lot of different ways. Some players like the shopping experience in game, others think it detracts from the adventure. You’ll run your shop differently than anyone else would depending on your group’s preferences.

Typically there are two divergent paths for running a general store in game: the roleplay heavy one and the mechanics heavy one. These aren’t really discrete options, they’re two ends of a spectrum. You’ll likely find yourself somewhere in between.

In the roleplay heavy handling of a general store your players will discuss with the clerk what they need. The clerk will tell them about stock, trying to upsell the players on goods, and likely haggling with stingier players. The most extreme version of this involves no dice rolls and is simply a conversation with some improvised acting from players and the DM.

On the extreme other side of this type of shopping experience you’ll be in mechanics only mode. Your players will look at a set list of items available and purchase what they want. If they want to haggle it’s all skill checks and dice rolls to see how things work out with some light narration from the DM about how they succeeded or failed.

Your game will likely fall somewhere between these two extremes with a mix of roleplay and mechanics. Depending on how far you lean to either side, you might want to prepare some additional information about the NPC shopkeeper that will make roleplaying a little less taxing. You can find more about roleplaying NPC shopkeepers in our other article. 

Buy Lists, Coffers, and Cash On Hand

While a general store may be wealthy by commoner standards, it is not necessarily wealthy on the same scale as your players may be. Especially at higher levels, your players will quickly see buying anything at these stores as a trivial matter.

The main purpose of a general store for players is not always purchases though. It can also be sales. A player character will have a load of stuff they want to convert into cash as they play and general stores are sometimes a good place for that exchange to happen.

When you are considering the shop’s propensity to buy certain goods, remember that a store has limited funds. Most of the store’s wealth at any given time is tied up in their stock. Before a player even enters a shop you should have a good idea of how much cash on hand the store has. The smaller the town, the smaller this number will be. 

Beyond the ability to buy something, the shop has to want to buy something. In most cases a store owner will consider if they can buy it from your players and sell it to anyone else for a higher value. Occasionally they will take some risks, but typically they know if they have any room to make money from purchases. Remember that general stores are typically well connected to merchants, so they could offload most goods if they really needed to.

While players often have stuff they want to sell, sometimes the store will be looking for certain goods. General stores in towns and villages will sometimes have posted buy lists that can act as an adventure catalyst for any cash strapped party.

Certain foragables, reagents, or rare goods could be in high demand and a general store could post these lists for your party or other adventures to take advantage of. With these lists the store could post the items they are after, what they’re willing to pay, and any bonuses for bringing higher quality or quantity of goods.

Finally, buy lists also act as a way for your shopkeepers to say no to purchasing goods. Some have a hard stance and don’t buy anything not on their lists. Others might be more flexible, but at the end of the day they are trying to make money.

After Hours, Security, and Your Party’s Thief

While you shouldn’t have to prepare for your party to steal everything from a shop, I’ve played DnD before and know what some players are like. If it’s not nailed down, players will walk away with it. If these are considerations you need to keep in mind for your players, you’ll need to think a bit deeper about the shop, the town, and the deterrence for thievery.

Most general stores have lodging either attached to or on top of the building. The easiest way for a shopkeeper to know their goods are safe is to never be apart from them. Beyond that, your average shop won’t have a lot of security. Simple locks on the doors, probably a windowless storeroom or barred windows at the most.

To be completely honest, your players are far outside the average power curve of the wider world somewhere around level 3. A wooden wall isn’t stopping your players from taking whatever they want from the average peasant. However, if your players have stickier hands than most and want to perform a heist at every shop, additional security can be put in place very easily in the form of hired adventurers.

While most games won’t need this, a good deterrent that is on par with the players in the game will be a hired adventurer who also has a character sheet. Not everyone feels great about player class NPCs, but for these purposes they make the most sense. You want them to be powerful, but you also want them to be present. You need a character who stands in the store during the day and is obvious security.

The NPC doesn’t necessarily want to apprehend thieves nearly as much as they want to prevent the need to do so at all. For this reason you would be best served adding either menacing looking characters or highly versatile NPCs that the party will understand appear dangerous if they were to cross paths.

If you have to resort to using security for stores, be sure to place NPCs that are two to three levels above the party. They won’t necessarily be a good match in the action economy in a fight, so stronger hired help is better. In game, you can pass off the hired muscle as a retired adventurer.

General Stores are Common, but Not Unimportant

As you can see, there is a lot to consider with what might at first glance appear as the most boring of shops. While the general store is not as fun or exciting as a magic item dealer or even a blacksmith, it is far more likely to be the most used store type in any game.

You can easily get by with an extremely minimalist approach to creating a general store, but we hope you’ve come to see the value in understanding what goes on behind the scenes in the shop. The better you understand these businesses in your fantasy worlds, the better you can weave them into your stories as an integral part of the game.

Happy DMing!

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