Chapter 2: Trading a Walking Stick for an Awkward Situation

After about an hour of traveling down the road and occasionally tugging on the leash to get the rooster to cooperate, you make it to Milkvale. Despite its name, there are no large pastures full of happy cows and stores full of dairy products. There’s one old, miserable-looking cow tied to a pole with a rusty old bell around its neck. It is probably the happiest thing you see in this town. The main road is muddy and covered with animal tracks (and other animal-related messes) from travelers who passed by. The buildings are barely holding together, with holes on the walls and roofs off most of them. You even see a rat perched on a fence post, sadly nibbling on a rock. The place has definitely seen better days.

You walk past the cow, who lets out a sad moo and looks at you longingly to free it from its suffering. You quietly promise to free it one day while looking away from its eyes so its terribly sad gaze doesn’t pull you in. Near the tavern, you overhear the doorman talking to a prospective patron.

“Welcome to the Bitter Buffoon…how tough are you?” the doorman asks.

“How tough am I? HOW TOUGH AM I? I ate un-threshed wheat this morning” the patron responded.

The doorman laughs. “So?” he says mockingly.

The patron quietly responds: “Mixed with the pond water…”

The doorman’s face drops and he becomes visibly concerned. “Right this way. Sorry to keep you waiting.” The patron grumbles past him into the tavern.

After witnessing that interaction, you realize that you need to finish your business in this town and get out as soon as possible. You pass by several questionable individuals before reaching an unusually well-kept building down Main Street. The sign outside is shaped like a pestle and mortar with the words “The Abysmal Apothecary.”

You walk into the store and are immediately hit with a wall of odors. As you walk towards the counter, the smells shift from pleasant floral tones to rancid cheese. There are various dried plants and animal parts in containers and jars of all shapes and sizes along the sides of the store. One jar has an eyeball in it that looks suspiciously human. You have this strange feeling that it is looking at you as you pass by. At the counter, you see a bell and a small note that says “Ring Me.” Since no one is there to help, you decide to ring the bell. A loud puff of smoke erupts from behind the counter and a twitchy old man with a long, scraggly gray beard appears once the smoke clears. He is wearing a tattered robe and a pointy blue hat with a large brim. The crazed man looks at your bandaged wound through thick, cracked glasses.

“I’m Wizard Fladnag! Need a health potion, do ya? Got plenty of those!” he says excitedly.

He flails about the back of the counter, tossing bottles and random junk aside until he holds up an intricate looking bottle with a viscous red liquid inside.

“Turns out I don’t have plenty of those, but I do have this Everlasting Gash-stopper! The bottle refills with more healing liquid every time it’s used. You look like an adventurer on a mission. I’ll sell it to you for a discounted rate of 500 gold rounds!”

You hold up the 2 grounds that you managed to dig out of your pouch. Fladnag examines the gold and shakes his head.

“Nope, definitely not enough. Can’t retire if I only get 2 grounds for a 500 ground item. If I sold it to you for that price, you would start your own healing facility where you’ll send an army of ants on a campaign to ensure that people pay their healing bills or risk getting their toes nipped. THEY’LL START AN ENSURE ANTS COMPANY! Then, while you’re successful and living a comfortable life traveling the world in your fancy new 2-horsepower carriage with voice-activated boggarts that warm the seats designed by that fancy businessman, Tess La Cour, I’ll be stuck here selling wart cream for 4 grounds each and…wait…where did you get that Magic Staff?!”

He stops his rambling and stares intensely at your walking stick.

“I lost that thing on a bet where I used luck magic to win every time. Unfortunately, a black cat walked by when I bet the staff, my retirement pension, and my favorite pointy hat for the entire pot. Turns out, black cats reverse luck magic with their very presence, creating a severe case of bad luck magic that affects the caster. I not only lost everything, but I lost my shoe in the bog, got attacked by a rat who stole my favorite rock, and missed afternoon tea with my mum. Anyway, I’ll trade you the potion for the staff and I’ll throw in 200 grounds and this weird glowing rock that I found with the lint in my pocket!”

You hand him the stick and he tosses you the potion. You drink out of it and the cut on your arm closes up, leaving behind a small scar and an aftertaste of burnt mushrooms in your mouth. The Everlasting Gash-stopper starts refilling slowly with more of the healing liquid. Fladnag then throws a coin pouch with the grounds and the strange rock at you. He hugs the walking stick and coos at it like it’s a baby. You decide to leave before he becomes lucid.

After leaving the apothecary, you make your way further down the street to the local trader. Luckily, he is more coherent than Fladnag. The trader is friendly and offers a selection of basic tools and supplies you need for traveling. You look in your bag and offer the rusty axe and 5 gold rounds for a more reliable iron one. You pick out a travel cookware set, a tinderbox, rope, an empty jar, a waterskin, some hard cheese, a preserved fish, and a small sack of salt, which the trader puts on the table. You also see an old bronze knife that might be useful on your travels. The trader offers to sell it to you at a discounted rate, throwing in an old leather sheath to make it safer to carry. He puts everything in a leather satchel and offers all the supplies for about 60 gold rounds. Normally, you were taught to bargain with traders to get the price lower and save some gold rounds, but with him being the only friendly face in this backwater village and exhausted from your interaction with Fladnag, you decide to pay the full price. He thanks you for your business with a smile and wishes you safe travels.

Before you leave, you realize you forgot about the rooster, which is still attached to the leash you are holding. You ask the trader how much he would like for the rooster. He looks at it and offers you 5 grounds for it. As you are about to shake the trader’s hand to close the deal, the rooster tugs at the leash. You look at him, and he looks at you with even sadder eyes than the cow from earlier. It makes a depressed “bwuk” and you sigh. You realize that you do not have any other traveling companions. Having a battle-hardened rooster could be useful for distracting attackers and warning you when danger is close. You remove its leash and ask the trader if he has a small bag of chicken feed instead. He smiles and gives you a pouch free of charge. The rooster makes a happy “bwuk” and rubs its head on your leg. The words “Companion Unlocked” and “+2 Charisma” pop up in your head, but you dismiss it as a side effect of the Gash-stopper. You thank the trader and make your way out. As you open the door, he calls you back.

“I reckon you’re headed west to Castor? Watch yourself out there. The town crier mentioned that a goblin raiding party is headed in that direction. It’s passing by this cowpie of a town, so I am closing shop and making my way out of here. Goblins travel fast, so travel faster. Good luck, my friend.”

You nod at him in thanks and toss him 2 grounds for the information. He waves at you as your party leaves the front door.

Time is running out. If the raiders attack and capture you, you will not be able to get to Castor and warn the Guild. The Dragon will burn the county to ashes.

You take a deep breath, steel yourself for the journey, and start running towards the Shaded Woods with your companion in tow.

The History of Potions:

Before modern currency, prehistoric people traded goods and services in a gift economy. Since most isolated communities were self-sufficient (from early farming or goods acquired from hunting or gathering), items were often traded for other goods of equal or greater value in a system called bartering. Some of the earliest forms of bartering involved the exchange of flint or obsidian (which were used for various tools and weapons) for hides and other commodities. As cultures developed, trade cities formed, especially along coastal regions in areas like the Mediterranean where ships can easily exchange goods such as bronze, salt, and food.

With the formation of trade networks across the known world, various cultures and civilizations needed a standard unit of currency to ensure goods were exchanged for items of equal value. Initially, civilizations developed a form of representative currency. During the rise of Mesopotamia, people were given clay tokens representative of how many resources or assets they provided to the temple, which they can use to pay for goods, bills, or debts. Over time, this evolved into coinage, with the earliest known form being the Mesopotamian shekel which emerged around 5,000 years ago. The Babylonians then enacted a series of laws (including the Code of Hammurabi) which helped develop a form of early economics, including the ideas of debt, interest, and legal fines.

Other cultures had their own coinage, too. China, India, and Greek city-states began making stamped coinage, with Lydia creating a form of coinage in the 7th Century B.C. influencing the ones used in modern society (different valued coins made of gold, silver, and bronze). Minting helped mass produce consistent types of currency, including the Greek drachma and Roman sestertii, denarii, and aurei.

However, with the rise of coins came the rise of debasement (lowering the value of currency) and counterfeiting (creation of fake currency). Individuals throughout history – from the Roman Empire to the Medieval Ages and the Renaissance – clipped money (shaving down coins to make new ones with the removed metal) or plugging them (filling cut coins with a less precious metal and closing them). Forgeries and counterfeit coins would also be made with alloys consisting of precious metals mixed with cheaper materials. While debasement was common when a country’s economy was doing poorly, this created distrust in trading and merchant communities. To combat this, specialists and merchants would use tools such as coin weights to compare a recently acquired coin with a coin made of a known amount of precious metal. If the measured coin is lighter or heavier than the control coin or weight, that means it was tampered with. Unique designs, special etching on coins, and harsh laws were also used to scare away counterfeiters and forgers. 

Over time, trade systems became more complex, and international money systems helped connect different countries’ economies. This allowed people to purchase goods and services from all over the world and exchange one form of currency with another.

Take-and-Make Information:

Have you wanted to become the hero of your own story? Then join the Adventurer’s Guild! We will provide you with the tools you need to survive in any situation! This month, we went over trading and bartering, learning about how people exchanged items and currency for other products. Pick up your “Adventurer’s Coin Pouch” Take-and-Make at the La Plata Branch Library from a member of the Librarian Merchant’s Guild by drawing this symbol and showing it to someone at the Circulation Desk. 

Each kit will also contain a single gold coin to start you off on your travels!* Supplies are limited, so pick your kit up today!

*Disclaimer: Due to a kingdom-wide gold shortage, all gold coins contain 0% gold and are therefore useless in trading. Please refrain from using this coin in any purchases or trade agreements. The Adventurer’s Guild is not responsible for any penalties and fines from the First Bank of Castor or visits from G.O.L.D. (Goblin Organization of Law and Disorder) Enforcers. Please use your Standard-Issue Adventurer’s Guild Coin Pouch with currency from your realm.