Grapecount Alley: Werkung’s Tower

You pick your way down the noisy alley, the ancient wood and plaster buildings looming over and almost blocking out the starry sky. Music, cheery yellow light, and the laughs and brawls of rough folk spill out into the night from doors and windows. You pass some old men sitting on barrels under an awning. They take their pipes out of their mouths and stop talking, staring with hard eyes. You hurry on to the crook in Grapecount Alley where it turns 180 degrees around a low stone tower.

The tumbled-down walls and crumbling arrow loops stand in an empty ring, as there are no more wooden floors. Stone stairs spiral down inside the outer wall into a constant blue humming light below.

On the flagstones below the space opens up with stone-block vaulted ceilings held up by a ring of pillars in the center. Beyond the pillars there are sallow, pale people with glowing blue runes on their foreheads. There may be a dozen of them. They wander about each holding a ghostly blue-glowing item in their hands. Immediately under the stone stairs is a small well plunging into darkness below.

They turn to look at you, hopeful expressions on their faces. They all murmur questions about what you seek. They hold out their items for your inspection. They explain that to buy you must dump your coins in the well and then touch the head-rune of the one you wish to buy.

You look around and pick a woman holding a knife. The other shades fade back to let you speak with her. She whispers in your ear that this knife will steal the soul of whoever it kills, so that they may not be raised from the dead. The cuts it makes grow cold and numb so that the victim can’t tell how injured he is. And in the Astral Plane it can be used to sever a Silver Cord but in so doing the knife will be ruined. Her price is fifteen thousand nobles. You balk. She moves closer, and her expression becomes more desperate. Her price cannot change. You shake your head.

As she limps back, dejected, the others crowd forward and beg for you to buy. Unnerved before, you now panic and rush for the stairs. You shove one man who holds a beautifully filigreed axe aside and he falls into a pillar. His head strikes it and you pause a moment, horrified at what you’ve done. But his expression doesn’t change and he just scampers back to his feet. You turn and flee up the stairs into the warm night and the more-natural life of Grapecount Alley.

You pull out the scrap of paper that the traveler had given you. The address, Werkung’s Magic Shop. This was the right place. But if you’re going to do any business there you’re going to need a stiff drink first.

Werkung’s Tower
Werkung was a high-level Magic-User who was tired of thieves stealing his things. Every defense he would construct, they would find some way to bypass. One day the people living on Grapecount saw his tower ignite in a sheet of black flames. It burned for three days and three nights without spreading. And on the hour it rose, the flames fell away to reveal a doorless, wardless tower. Werkung puttered around inside with his books and his spells, and eventually people looking in assumed he had gone mad. First one thief and then another wanted to just walk in and grab some things. There were no longer any defenses, so why not? What could Werkung have done but simply give up?

So a bunch of thieves gathered one night while Werkung was sleeping. They stole in like smoke and moonlight, and each grabbed something that looked magical. A few moments passed before the thieves realized that their grip on the item was permanent and not a matter of greed. The item each held gained an outline of blue light, and then transparency, until the item was a hologram of what it once was. Each found a glowing blue rune emblazoned on his forehead. They ran outside and into the night.

And one by one they returned. Their friends who knew magic told them the only way to remove the curse was to have Werkung remove it. But Werkung had disappeared, leaving an empty tower. In their minds Werkung explained that if one of them could sell the item at its full price, he would be free. The money would need to be thrown down the well in his tower basement where it would be transported to whatever strange dimension he was working in at the moment. The forehead runes would sustain and protect them but they would continue to age at a normal rate and they cannot attack anyone. And later Werkung’s weedy voice whispered the secret powers of the items and what they were worth.

Occasionally some of the thieves will leave and try to find out if anyone in the city can remove the curse. And new rune-bearers show up occasionally, evidently victims of Werkung’s Ward from other locations. So the stock of the shop is a random sample of a full table of perhaps 100 items that the DM should put together for his campaign.

The problem that the Doomed Merchants (as people call them) face is that Werkung priced his items above what they were generally worth. And he updates his prices based on changes in the market (If there is a drought or the region turns to desert, a Decanter of Endless Water will go up in price. If someone buys up all the magic daggers, any of Werkung’s magic daggers will go up in price). If you would sell an item to the PC at a given price, add half again that amount to find Werkung’s price.

Alternate Werkung’s Tower
In this version Werkung’s curse is far more insidious. The Doomed Merchant will sell the item at a believable, though low, price. Consider a standard magic item purchase price with a 20% discount. If you buy the item by dropping your gold down the well and then accept it from the shade, you become cursed as he once was. The shade becomes a normal person again, minus rune and curse, and immediately flees the area.

A note for DMs
Maybe a Wish would remove the curse, and then the PC could easily slay or drive off the thief and seize the magic item. This is not a problem. Sure it breaks your fun little magic shop, and sure he gets it for free. But if an 18th level Magic-User can’t bust up some dudes in a town, what’s the point of being high level?
Furthermore, the items will be good but not amazing. Certainly it’s worth the effort for the 18th level M-U to bust the place up for the treasure. But it’s not the same impact on the campaign as if some 5th level Cleric did it with Dispel Magic, or at 7th with Remove Curse.

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